The Ark of History: St. Augustine’s City of God

640px-Church_of_Our_Lady_the_Queen_of_Poland_(Ark_of_Our_Lord),_view_from_N,_1_Obroncow_Krzyza_street,_Nowa_Huta,_Krakow,_Poland

via wikipedia commons: “The Arka Church” in Nowa Huta, Poland.

St. Augustine’s City of God is such a vast body of work that to write several thousand words on the document would be futile. Instead of writing a quasi-commentary on the text, the hope here to highlight the theme of salvation historiography that Augustine attempts to flesh out from the fall of the Roman empire. The decline and fall of the Roman empire is also the subject and title of a famous work on the subject written by Edward Gibbon. It is a work still trumpeted in History and Classics departments at many universities. What is strange about the study of that particular work, which blames the Catholic Church for the fall of the Roman empire, is that many academics seem to miss the fact that Gibbon wrote it as a diatribe against Catholicism—a common theme in 18thcentury England.

Interestingly enough, the work is often used today as a source to criticize all of Christianity as a whole. The trouble about Gibbon’s particular text is that St. Augustine had utterly refuted it 1300 years prior. After learning the contexts of Augustine’s City of Godin comparison to Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I’d be utterly embarrassed to assign that particular text in a classroom.

Rodney Stark, professor of Religious Studies at Baylor University, writes in his book Bearing False Witness at length about Edward Gibbon’s misrepresentation for the fall of the Roman empire. Stark explains, “Edward Gibbon (1737-94) would surely have been in deep trouble had the bitterly antireligious views he expressed in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not been incorrectly seen as applying to Roman Catholicism … Gibbon’s readers assumed his attacks were specific to Catholicism and not aimed at religion in general.”[1]

A student may spend their entire academic career at multiple colleges studying Roman civilization and culture and never read Augustine, one of the great Latin writers, but will almost definitely read Gibbon. A sad testimony to many history departments on college campuses.

Augustine’s work, The City of God, was written from the year 413 to 426 A.D. Matthew Levering examines that The City of God can be broken into either two parts or five depending on the topics in the work.[2]Levering explains, “Divided into two parts, the work consists in ten books against the pagan gods, followed by twelve books on the origin, progress, and end of the City of God. Divided into five parts the work consists in five books against pagan worship as beneficial for this life; five books against pagan worship…as beneficial for the life to come; four books on the origin of the City of God; four books on its progress; and four books on its end.”[3]

In the frameworks of St. Augustine’s City of God, Augustine employs a particular method of recording history, an approach called by the author as an Augustinian historiography. Levering explains that Augustine seeks to illustrate what “we can expect from historical existence, Augustine painstakingly transforms it into a biblical understanding of history according to which our lives can only be rightly appreciated in terms of ecclesial participation in the eternal God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.”[4]A method commonly thought to have been concentrated in the 7thcentury by the Saint the Venerable Bede, but is Augustine’s use of it in a more expansive role is 300 years before Bede’s work on Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

 In the opening paragraph, St. Augustine examines that the task he is about to undertake is one of great difficulty writing:

“I shall consider it both in its temporal stage here below (where it journeys as a pilgrim among sinners and lives by faith) and as solidly established in its eternal abode—that blessed goal for which we patiently hope ‘until justice be turned into judgment,’ but which, one day, is to be the reward of excellence in a final victory and a perfect peace. The task, I realize, is a high and hard one, but God will help me.”[5]

Whereas Edward Gibbon argued that Catholicism ushered what modern history is realizing to be a mythical dark age, Augustine examines the account, as an eyewitness, that Christianity gave moral restraint to Christian soldiers where pagan soldiers did not exercise such virtue:

Have not even those very Romans whom the barbarians spared for the sake of Christ assailed His Name? To this both the shrines of the martyrs and the basilicas of the Apostles bear witness: amid the city’s devastation, these buildings gave refuge not only to the faithful but even to infidels.[6]

 St. Augustine examines that source for such barbarism was rooted in paganism. Levering explains, “The Romans constructed gods in their own worst image, and then they used those gods to justify their vicious behavior while at the same time openly mocking the behavior of the gods.”[7] A common objection from skeptics of the faith will be, “People don’t believe in the pagan gods anymore, why should I believe in your God.” It’s important to point out what St. Thomas Aquinas understood that a plethora of beings which all shared the same nature but possessed different characteristics or powers wouldn’t be a ‘god’ in the proper sense of the word. Therefore, one can know rationally there can be only one God. Augustine, in his rhetoric, plays against this idea of different attributed God’s when examining the worship of the Goddess of Victory. He observes that Victory in war must be related to some form of Injustice, and if Injustice is a moral good for the Roman empire when they expand it, perhaps, the Romans should worship Injustice.[8]

In our modern age, studies have shown that people who have sworn off the old religions are still inherently religious (or spiritual is what they claim).[9]The question then becomes, how do these people live out their quasi-spiritualism? Some folk feel as though there is a passive distant god, responsible for creation. The idea is similar to deism popular in the 17thand 18thcenturies with adherents like Thomas Jefferson. Others tend to focus on New Ageism, which is similar to pagan pantheism. Moreover, although there may be other variables, people recreate old religion or figures into their image that adherents for generations would fail to recognize.

Catholic Apologist Trent Horn writes, in his new book Counterfeit Christs, noticing his talk did not go over well with a group of Catholic school teachers:

Afterward, I asked one of the teachers, “What did you think of my presentation?”

“No offense,” she said, “but people like you get worked up about minor things like who can and can’t receive Communion, whereas I think we should just focus on being people of faith…

“I just don’t think Jesus would say that,” she continued. “He wouldn’t say , ‘No, you have this because of somebody’s rules.’ Jesus would be compassionate, not judgmental.”

I noticed on her name tag that she taught Theology, but I wasn’t surprised.[10]

 

What Trent is noticing is that people in our society, concerned with not rocking the boat, have made Jesus in the image of a smiling savior and have eliminated the judge. Some would argue that this is a result of a post-conciliar Church concerned with its public relations image in the face of the modern world. The theology and much of the liturgy after Vatican II seemed to move away from the High Christology of the Church (Savior and King) to only the Low Christology (Good Shepherd). The trouble with this perception is that it is an incomplete picture of who is Jesus. A perfect image of Jesus Christ is from an Icon at St. Catherine monastery at Mount Sinai. In that particular icon, the face of Christ is not symmetrical, on one side, it carries the compassionate Jesus, but on the other side is the face of judgment. There’s one aspect of mercy that people tend to forget is that for mercy to be needed, there must be something to be healed from which is sin—and to talk about sin is offensive to our society and many in the Church.

Pagan Gods or Demons?

Interestingly, Augustine makes a connection that because the pagan gods of Rome lead to lack of justice and virtue that they must be demons. Many contemporary Christians would scoff at such an idea of evil and the supernatural with modern psychology. However, not all examples within the Scripture, especially the Gospels, can be explained away as mental illness. For example, the particular witness of Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac and the death of the herd of pigs is something that modern psychology would lack with any answers.

For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; 12 and they begged him, “Send us to the swine, let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. [11]

 Augustine understood that there is a spiritual war going on for your soul. It would be in all of our best interest to remember it.

 Augustine Distinguishes between fate, predestination, and free will.

 What is interesting is that Levering in the book, The Theology of Augustine, explains the position of Cicero as understanding that if God had foreknowledge (middle knowledge) that it would destroy any sense of human freedom.[12]Ironically, Cicero’s position is more or less the same understanding of reformed Calvinist theology of Divine Sovereignty and with it Double Predestination. If the Reformation was put into motion by the idea, “What did Augustine really mean?” then naturally it follows since Augustine contradicts by understanding that the creator can operate within our natures without circumventing our wills ontologically. Levering explains, “Augustine argues that we do not need to choose between divine foreknowledge and human freedom…The transcendent God creates the order of finite causes, in which he includes the creation of free, rational agents.”[13]

In college, I had a professor who was devoutly Russian Orthodox and had a very skewed view of Augustine’s understanding of Free Will due to the debates of the Reformation. Naturally, the Reformation, which so dominated the culture of Western society is more or less driven by hearsay in other Christian circles. What Augustine understands is that God being the creator in the order of beings is that creatures can still participate in the will of God with their free will intact as the nature of God is existence. The professor didn’t understand the nuance of Augustine’s understanding that St. Thomas Aquinas would further develop when it came to the will. Augustine’s thoughts on Free Will are sometimes isolated and taken out of context from On the Predestination of the Saints; however, whether it is from the Confessions, City of God, or his Retractions he makes very clear that man does have a capacity to decide his own outcome in salvation history. Augustine writes:

We would certainly not make a choice if we did not choose to make it. On the other hand, if we take necessity to mean that in virtue of which something must be so and so or must happen in such and such a way, I do not see that we should be afraid of such necessity taking away our freedom of will. We do not put the life of God and the foreknowledge of God under any necessity when we say that God must live an eternal life and must know all things. Neither do we lessen His power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is. God is rightly called omnipotent, even though He is unable to die and be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer. He would not, of course, be omnipotent, if He had to suffer anything against His will. It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible.

So with us, when we say we must choose freely when we choose at all, what we say is true; yet, we do not subject free choice to any necessity which destroys our liberty. Our choices, therefore, are our own, and they effect, whenever we choose to act, something that would not happen if we had not chosen. Even when a person suffers against his will from the will of others, there is a voluntary act—not, indeed, of the person who suffers. However, a human will prevails—although the power which permits this is God’s[14]

At the end of book 10, Augustine begins to formulate his theology on the City of God. Part of the foundation of his understanding of the City of God is formulated from his synthesis of Porphyry. What Augustine recognizes is that Neo-Platonists could only move so far in their understanding of the metaphysical (spiritual) world, “The Neo-Platonist attempted to combine the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, believed in a dualism of soul and matter, and God is ultimate transcendence… Although he preferred Neo-Platonist thought, Augustine corrected them, and these corrections found a home with Catholic philosophy” as Augustine synthesizes them within the understanding of the grace of God’s revelation in history.[15]Levering explains, “Scripture records a history in which God acts to reveal himself and to establish a community of holy worship—the City of God.”[16]

Understanding History through Christian lenses.

Augustine begins his treatment of his theology on the City God with a guide, much like On Christian Doctrine, on how to understand Scripture. Levering writes, “For Augustine, Scripture, while written by humans, “is manifestly due to the guiding power of God’s supreme providence, and exercises sovereign authority over the literature of all mankind.”[17]Naturally, this is the understanding and teaching of the Catholic Church:

CCC 105God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

“For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.”

106God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.

107The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”[18]

Augustine has this understanding of what is the purpose and intent for Scripture. He explains in reference to Genesis that there are only four people mentioned, but that doesn’t mean that there are only four people in the entire world. Levering explains, “Augustine reasons that the sacred author mentions only those humans who directly pertain to the narrative’s goal of tracing the heavenly city from Adam to Abraham to the people of God.”[19]Naturally, this is why the narrative mentions Cain going to Nod and knowing his wife.

Levering reminds us that “the path to the City of God is the humility that comes from the mediator who is the Word incarnate…without renewal and elevation by grace, humans cannot know how God intends for us to be united to him.”[20]

There’s another city than the City of God?

Augustine explains that the city of man has its beginning in the fall of some of the angels. Naturally, because God is timeless and eternal as Augustine explains in Book 11 of the City God as well as in the Confession. God was aware that humanity would divide into the two separate camps created by the angels.[21]Levering instructs his readers that “In short, Augustine’s analysis of creation and falls shows that the earthly city, which was created ‘by love of self, even to the contempt of God.’ Turns away from participation in God and seeks happiness strictly in the linear or horizontal dimension of history.”

It appears that Levering, or Augustine, may have contradicted himself when he asserts that Cain and Abel inaugurated the two cities, as he already stated such with the fall of some of the angels. However, perhaps, Levering is discussing how humanity begins to participate in the two cities is launched by Cain and Abel. Augustine writes:

Now, the first man born of the two parents of the human race was Cain. He belonged to the city of man. The next born was Abel, and he was of the City of God. Notice here a parallel between the individual man and the whole race. We all experience as individuals what the Apostle says: ‘It is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.’ The fact is that every individual springs from a condemned stock and, because of Adam, must be first cankered and carnal,2only later to become sound and spiritual by the process of rebirth in Christ. So, too, with the human race as a whole, as soon as human birth and death began the historical course of the two cities, the first to be born was a citizen of this world and only later came the one who was an alien in the city of men but at home in the City of God, a man predestined by grace and elected by grace. By grace an alien on earth, by grace he was a citizen of heaven.[22]

So, if the two cities were made possible by the fall of the Angels and founded by the act of Cain against his brother, what is the role of the City of God that appears surrounded by the city of man?

One of the significant motifs of the City of God is Noah’s Ark. Of course, many of our great Eastern churches, as well as Western, were designed to imitate the hull of a great ark with the Churches’ naves. Augustine explains that all interpreters of the flood narrative must convey “the mind of the writer who described the flood must realize the connections of this story with the City of God which, in this wicked world, is ever tossed like the ark in the waters of a deluge. [23]

This ark a symbolism of the City of God—the Body of Christ—“Undoubtedly, the ark is a symbol of the City of God on its pilgrimage in history, a figure of the Church which was saved by the wood on which there hung the ‘Mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus.”[24]

So, how does the mediator, Christ Jesus, mediate on our behalf within the ark on our pilgrimage toward the City of God? Jesus refreshes us on our journey with the sacrament of his Sacred Body and Blood. Augustine stressed two particular themes of Catholic theology. Whereas many Protestant theologies focus on a personal relationship with the savior, Catholic theology stresses a communal relationship of the Body of Christ—the faithful—with Christ as the head:

Augustine stresses this point here:

#1 “There is, then, a true sacrifice in every work which unites us in a holy communion with God, that is, in every work that is aimed at that final Good in which alone we can be truly blessed. That is why even mercy shown to our fellow men is not a sacrifice unless it is done for God. A sacrifice, even though it is done or offered by man, is something divine—which is what the ancient Latins meant by the word sacrificium.[25]

The second point illustrates how the mediator Christ Jesus—the High Priest—offers the sacrifices of our bodies, the faithful, within the whole of his own mystical body to the Father.

#2 “true sacrifices are works of mercy done to ourselves or our neighbor and directed to God, and since works of mercy are performed that we may be freed from misery and, thereby, be happy, and since happiness is only to be found in that Good of which it is said: ‘But it is good for me to adhere to my God,’ it follows that the whole of that redeemed city, that is, the congregation or communion of saints, is offered as a universal sacrifice to God through the High Priest who, ‘taking the form of a servant, offered Himself in His passion for us that we might be the body of so glorious a Head. For it was this ‘form of a servant’ which He offered, it was in this form that He was the victim, since it is in ‘the form of a servant’ that He is Mediator, Priest and Sacrifice.[26]

What Augustine understands here is the foundational theology of early Christianity that works of mercy having an inherently sacramental nature as stated in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25; the Judgment of All Nations:

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[27]

We can see by this particular text that what we do for the least among us, while the ark is being battered by the waves of the city of man, is an act of worship and faith toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this aspect, Christianity cannot be a personal faith, whether that faith is personal in prayer or when those in the secular society, the city of man, call the faithful to have the freedom of worship instead of the freedom to express their religion openly.

If there is no God; there is only politics.

There are a great many different schools of thought when it comes to writing history — a discipline known as historiography. There is the view of “big man” history where people are inspired by leaders and thus moves history. Another viewpoint is that our cultural attachments motivate us, whether they’re ethnic, religious, or forms of beauty. However, the most predominated view of history is that we’re shaped strictly by political factors. The political viewpoint of history has four predominate schools: marxist, New Left, Modernist, and Post-Modernist. Those particular schools breakdown into roughly two categories: class conflict vs. nation-state. How is this important to Augustine and the City of God? Augustine’s text is inherently a historical treatise on the fall of the Roman empire being the result of a transcendent history of the City of God.

Augustine writes:

Nevertheless, the individual in this community is driven by his passions to pursue his private purposes. Unfortunately, the objects of these purposes are such that no one person (let alone, the world community) can ever be wholly satisfied.[28]

Levering understands this as “History on this view, is largely the record of empire and oppression, as it is in the modern study of history.”[29]The irony is that if the world is only material and secular; what is considered to be moral is only built on borrowed capital from Christian ethics. It’s undoubtedly true that atheist can be moral people, but they do not do so from an atheistic viewpoint. If we are all material accidents, then what happens between us is a mere accident. The only moral law becomes Nietzsche’s ‘state of nature,’ where the strongest are free to oppress the weak.

The idea that the political sphere is the key factor in moving history was challenged on June 2, 1979. A son of Poland returned home to Warsaw, as Pope John Paul II, he “walked vigorously down the stairway from the…[airplane]…, and kissed the ground of Poland. Church bells began tolling throughout a country electric with anticipation.”[30]A nation, starved for faith by materialist oppression of the Soviet Union, started to drown out their native son with chants, “We want God…We Want God…”

Of course, this gets into Augustine’s view on how the Church, ark, is to operate being battered by the waves of the city of man. It’s essential to note Augustine’s exegesis here because Jesus taught the kingdom of God is at hand, and this something that even a consensus of secular scholars acknowledge as a teaching from a historical Jesus who professed this message in 1stcentury Judea. So, how are we to view the ark and its pilgrimage? Augustine says:
“We conclude, therefore, that even now, in time, the Church reigns with Christ both in her living and departed members. ‘For to this end Christ died,’ says St. Paul, ‘and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.’ If St. John mentions only the souls of the martyrs, that is because they who have battled for the truth unto death reign in death with a special splendor. But, as the part is here used for the whole, we know that the words apply to the remaining faithful who belong to the same Church which is Christ’s Kingdom”[31]

Naturally, this plays into the idea that the Kingdom of God in the Gospels was coming, has come, and will come with the second coming of Christ. Professor of History and Classics Peter Burnell writes in his book The Augustinian Personhow the those who are living in the ark of the City of God should civilly participate in the city of man: “The perfectly just civil society, he says, is so by being a perfect sacrifice to God.”[32]So, it’s certainly not overstated that the duty of the faithful within the Body of Christ is to live a life of sacrifice.

[1]Rodney Stark, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History(West Conshohocken: Templeton Press. 2016), 3.

[2]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 113.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid, 114.

[5]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Demetrius B. Zema and Gerald G. Walsh, vol. 8, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), 17–18.

[6]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Demetrius B. Zema and Gerald G. Walsh, vol. 8, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), 19.

[7]Levering, 115.

[8]Ibid, 116.

[9]Michael Lipka, and Claire Gecewicz. “More Americans Now Say They’re Spiritual but Not Religious.” Pew Research Center. September 06, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/more-americans-now-say-theyre-spiritual-but-not-religious/.

[10]Trent Horn, Counterfeit Christs(El Caljon: Catholic Answers, 2018), 15-16.

[11]Mk 5:8–13 RSV

[12]Levering, 117.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII, 263.

[15]Phillip Hadden, Discussion Thread #1. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

[16]Levering, 125.

[17]Ibid, 126.

[18]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 31.

[19]Levering, 131.

[20]Ibid, 126.

[21]Ibid, 127.

[22]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, vol. 14, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1952), 414.

[23]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 478–479.

[24]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 477–478.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books VIII–XVI, 125.

[26]Ibid, 126–127.

[27]Mt 25:31–46. RSV

[28]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, 84.

[29]Levering, 134.

[30]George Wiegel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II(New York: Harper, 2001), 305.

[31]Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, vol. 24, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 278.

[32]Peter Burnell, The Augustinian Person (Washington: Catholic University of America, 2005), 142.

Let Your Heart Burn for the Lord. St. Augustine–The Confessions

Saint-Augustine-36

What can be written about St. Augustine’s Confessions that has not already been written? The Confessions is the first great autobiography of Western Civilization from one of the great pillars of Western thought and rhetoric. Furthermore, it is an examination of the conscience of a man, who with contrition in his heart, tells his conversion story. If one were to read only the first page, one could still understand the thesis of the entirety of the work itself. Augustine writes, “Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”[1]What is intriguing about Augustine’s particular thought here is that if any student or scholar does take the time to research Augustine, this quote will be undoubtedly quoted in many articles on the man. Matthew Levering in his book The Theology of Augustine explains the phenomena with this particular passage writing that “Many of the key elements of the Confessions are here: As creatures, we yearn to share in God’s life. God has created us for this end, and by grace God moves us toward it. We are restless until we attain rest in God.”[2]

How are we to relate to Augustine’s examination of conscience? Western society in the 21stcentury is a society that values liberty and freedom as the supreme good. It is a society that is concerned with mostly autonomous rights, and choice. However, it does not necessarily follow that joy and freedom are fruits of unsolicited choice. Western society is like that of a restaurant which on the menu has every conceivable choice to be made for dinner. However, there becomes a great difficulty and less freedom to enjoy their dinner when has the stresses of a glut of decisions. Can you really enjoy your dinner better at this location compared to the restaurant down the street that has a menu streamlined with a few items which you are still free to decide what to have for dinner?

Several studies indicate that after the modernization of Western society after the 1960s people are either not any happier or less happy. In an article in the National Catholic Register commentator Mary Eberstadt writes, “With all the gains they have made with increased freedom and financial independence and less discrimination, women are less happy now than 40 years ago. Sociologists can call it a ‘paradox,’ but it is only a paradox if the sexual revolution makes you happy. What if it doesn’t? That’s the radical thought people should be ready to entertain.”[3]Sexual libertinism is something that Augustine would be quite knowledgeable in attempting to satisfy is own quest toward happiness.

It is in The Confessions; Augustine is a man who takes what he wants from the world. In these pages, that same man also does what he wants with the pleasures of the body. He begets a child out of wedlock with a mistress whom the Confessions never names. Augustine leaves behind the ‘shackles’ of his family, including his pious mother, to seek riches and glory in the Roman court of Caesar in Milan as the Emperor’s orator. Moreover, this man, whom our modern world would suggest as one of the most successful of men, a man who seeks fame, riches, glory, passions does not find himself to be happy. Why? It is because our souls, which make up a part of our nature with our finite bodies, are eternal in the sense of being created by God and the finite world cannot satisfy was is meant to be eternally with God.

The Confessions, although an autobiography, reads more of a personal prayer of man to his God. The text is Psalm like in quality, and naturally, this autobiography becomes somewhat of a manual on how to find God through prayer as “Augustine answers that we can seek him in prayer, and he will answer our prayer.”[4]Fr. Allan Fitzgerald highlights this understanding of the particular text by writing, “Recognizing that the Confessions lifted his mind and heart toward God was a way of saying that he was not recounting events or writing an autobiography or narrating history. This is a book about a relationship, about his learning to pray to God.”[5]

Levering asks an interesting question in the context of Augustine’s epiphany, “Why does everlasting happiness or misery depend on loving a God whom we have such trouble finding?”[6]Levering gets to a particular difficulty that many skeptics and nonbelievers arrive at when they go down the rabbit hole of atheism, “Why does anything exist? Or More alarming, why do I even exist? If one concludes nihilism, there being no purpose to our lives, one will be left with there being no purpose to life. Levering explains that St. Augustine rejects this by pointing toward the order of the world.

Augustine recognizes the source for the motion of the world; the growth of things and their passing out of existence. Levering explains Augustine’s thought development that, “we know there must be some meaning because we came into existence within a natural order that does not depend on human decision making, an order that has it own intelligible patterns and laws.”[7]It should be no surprise to any student of St. Thomas Aquinas—being the greatest Augustinian of all time—that this is the foundation of the cosmological argument for God’s existence. The world is in motion, creatures that exist in the world change, and all of these creatures in the world do not have to exist. One of the most common analogies is to reflect on firewood that it is in a state of potentiality of being burned, but until it is on fire, it is not in actuality. Augustine is beginning to recognize the nature of God being pure actuality; existence itself. Augustine writes in book 1 chapter 4 that God is “Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful, yet most just; most hidden, yet most present; most beautiful, yet most strong, stable, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet all-changing; never new, never old.”[8]

It is throughout these first pages of the Book 1 where Augustine begins to reflect on his own childhood and coming to the conclusion that a state of deprivation exists even within infants. A conclusion that will lead him to promote infant baptisms against the Manicheans. Augustine observes his infancy through his anecdotal experience with infants. He observes that infants lack both gratitude for their mothers taking care of them and generosity to share what is abundant to others who are need of sustenance.

Augustine writes:

“Who remindeth me of the sins of my infancy? for in Thy sight none is pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth. Who remindeth me? doth not each little infant, in whom I see what of myself I remember not? What then was my sin? was it that I hung upon the breast and cried? …For those habits, when grown, we root out and cast away…The weakness then of infant limbs, not its will, is its innocence. Myself have seen and known even a baby envious; it could not speak, yet it turned pale and looked bitterly on its foster-brother. Who knows not this? Mothers and nurses tell you that they allay these things by I know not what remedies. Is that too innocence, when the fountain of milk is flowing in rich abundance, not to endure one to share it, though in extremest need, and whose very life as yet depends thereon?[9]

Augustine continues to examine and develop the basis of his theology in book 1 of his Confessions answering the problem of evil, which he will later explain in more detail in a later book. He writes:

“But no one doth well against his will, even though what he doth, be well. Yet neither did they well who forced me, but what was well came to me from Thee, my God. For they were regardless how I should employ what they forced me to learn, except to satiate the insatiate desires of a wealthy beggary, and a shameful glory. But Thou, by whom the very hairs of our head are numbered, didst use for my good the error of all who urged me to learn; and my own, who would not learn, Thou didst use for my punishment- a fit penalty for one, so small a boy and so great a sinner.”[10]

In Books 2 through 6, Augustine sets off to explain his fall into a worldly pursuit of the desires of the flesh and his role within the dualism of Manicheanism. Augustine explains that attempting to pursue God, or rather, fit God into our world view leads us into a state of despair instead of happiness. Levering writes, “Augustine shows that in vices, we pathetically strive to be God on our terms rather than receiving God’s gifts in love…God alone gives perfect rest…but God alone is perfect…The vices make the self into the center of all things…because the vices are self centered, they distort our efforts in friendship. Stealing the pears would not have been fun with his companions in the act. Vice turns even friendship…into an occasion for self-seeking.”[11]

What is to be understood here is that Augustine’s examination of conscience has led him to the truth that to indulge in any form of vice, or bad habit, is not liberating but rather an enslavement of the soul to the flesh instead of the communion of body and soul with an interior joy. The practice of virtue, which Augustine learns by ordering his will toward God, is the truest sense of freedom.

The episode of Augustine stealing the pears and his reflection on how original sin plays into his desire to commit the act of faith is probably if not the most famous scene in The Confessions. Augustine reflecting on his motives for stealing pears as a young boy, discovers something at the root has caused him to do evil.

Augustine writes:

Surely, Lord, your law punishes theft, as does that law written on the hearts of men, which not even iniquity itself blots out. What thief puts up with another thief with a calm mind? Not even a rich thief will pardon one who steals from him because of want. But I willed to commit theft, and I did so, not because I was driven to it by any need…For I stole a thing which I had plenty of my own and of much better quality. Nor did I wish to enjoy that thing which I desired to gain by theft, but rather to enjoy the actual theft and the sin of theft.

 …We took great loads of fruit from it (orchard), not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs;

 …Behold, now let my heart tell you what it looked for there, that I should be evil without purpose and there should be no cause for my evil but evil itself. Foul was the evil, and I loved it[12].

 “Foul was the evil and I loved it.” A chilling remark. Fr. Allan Fitzgerald examines, “Why does Augustine tells the story?…The Key to Augustine’s resolution of this problem is to see that concupiscence of the flesh seeks its rest anywhere but in God…The story of the pear theft is a retelling of the story in Genesis, evoking the mystery at the heart of the story of the fall of Adam and Eve.”[13]

Jonathan Yates, Associate Professor at Villanova University, asserts that Augustine’s story of stealing the pears is one that parallels Genesis 3 and the fall of man. Yates examines that “In Books 1-9, it is the trees and the fruit from Genesis 3 that are most frequently referenced…by Augustine.”[14]The most important parallel between the two stories is the ownership of the tree. In Genesis 3, God gives the command that no one should eat from the tree of Good and Evil. God gives the law, as he has created an orderly world, so Adam and Eve, also being creatures, are subordinate to this order like the laws of nature. What particular separates us from the laws of nature or the animals is the powers of the soul—the intellect. Again, Augustine illustrates that humanity falters when it attempts to supplant God by disregarding its duty toward His order, and instead asserts its desire to choose whatever desires of the human will rather than God. Original Sin, often associated with the first sin, should to some degree be understood that original in the sense of its nature is the pride of choosing what one desires over the duty—or right relation—toward God.

Levering explains it is through the power of the intellect that led Augustine to originally disregard Scripture as Divine Revelation: “Augustine’s pride in his intellectual refinement led him away from the Bible into the foolishness of worshipping a spatial being, a vast luminous being at war with evil.”[15]There is something to note here in our modern age. Many skeptics who read the Bible, or attempt to discredit it, dismiss it because it does not entirely agree in their opinion with scientism or modern historical criticism. However, secular schools of thought often disregard the traditions of reading the Bible as a collection of books with different authors, genres, and audiences rather than a single book. So, in much the same way, it is the pride of our modern age’s trust in their intellectualism that leads them away from correctly understanding the revelation of the Bible.

The Confessions is Augustine’s story of his search for God. In Book 4, Augustine explains that we should seek God through his creation—through beauty. In Chapter 13, he writes, “I did not know all this time, but I loved lower beautiful creatures, and I was doing down into the very depths. I said to my friends: “Do we love anything except the what is beautiful? What then is a beautiful thing? What is beauty? What is it that attracts us and wins us to the things that we love? Unless there were a grace and beauty in them, they could in no wise move us.”[16]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2500, recognizes the movement of the soul toward God in the beauty of creation:

The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. Truth in words, the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality, is necessary to man, who is endowed with intellect. But truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos—which both the child and the scientist discover—“from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.”[17]

 The creator of beauty is also the creator of truth. And such, the author of divine revelation which is the most beautiful expression of God’s divine love for us is also the author of philosophical truths and scientific facts. Therefore, as Catholics, we understand a proper relationship of Fides et Ratio in our understanding of our faith in God.

Catholics do not fear scientific discovery with the mysteries of our faith. Catholics understand that all truths are expressed by God: “It is the openness to mystery, where all things can be found beautiful in their values; a recognition of truth which in large part has been lost in our modern Western culture within its understanding of truth. In appearing to understand this idea, Fr. Brian Mullady points out the Pope’s sentiment in paragraph 83 of the Fides et Ratio, “Wherever men and women discover a call to the absolute and transcendent, the metaphysical dimension of reality opens up before them: in truth, in beauty, in moral values, in other persons, in being itself, in God…We cannot stop short at experience alone… The word of God refers constantly to things which transcend human experience and even human thought; but this “mystery” could not be revealed, nor could theology render it in some way intelligible, were human knowledge limited strictly to the world of sense experience.”[18]Levering explains, Augustine urges that wherever truth is, God will be discovered; when we love this Creator God, his love will secure our lives and show us our true good.”[19]

In Book 7, Augustine takes a gander into the understanding of the nature of God, the problem of evil, and how it exists in the world. Levering discusses how Augustine still understands God within a spatial respective. What Augustine is examining is his continuing development away from Manichean dualist theology on the nature of God into the higher forms of being within the Platonic understanding of forms it appears—hence is why Augustine explains God is the manner of sunlight permeating a room. As such the highest forms within Platonic philosophy are, in a sense metaphysical forms, Augustine appears to understand God within the framework. The highest form within the Platonic framework being goodness, Augustine ultimately understands God as the supreme goodness in form. Therefore, God cannot be the originator of evil, because God’s existence as goodness and all his creations being created good indicates his very nature as existence. If God is the form of goodness itself, then evil cannot have form because it would take away, or be a deprivation, from the good form. Augustine’s particular synthesis of Platonic thought and Christian scripture is recognizing that all creatures must possess some form of Good within themselves as creations of the eternal goodness, so there can be no purely manifestation of evil or it would cease to exist. This idea should give us hope.

Augustine on whether evil has form chapter 5 of book 7:

Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being? Why then fear we and avoid what is not? Or if we fear it idly, then is that very fear evil, whereby the soul is thus idly goaded and racked. Yea, and so much a greater evil, as we have nothing to fear, and yet do fear. Therefore either is that evil which we fear, or else evil is, that we fear. Whence is it then? seeing God, the Good, hath created all these things good. He indeed, the greater and chiefest Good, hath created these lesser goods; still both Creator and created, all are good. Whence is evil? Or, was there some evil matter of which He made, and formed, and ordered it, yet left something in it which He did not convert into good? Why so then? Had He no might to turn and change the whole, so that no evil should remain in it[20]

Augustine on evil having no substance:

And what more monstrous than to affirm things to become better by losing all their good? Therefore, if they shall be deprived of all good, they shall no longer be. So long therefore as they are, they are good: therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil then which I sought, whence it is, is not any substance: for were it a substance, it should be good. For either it should be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good: or a corruptible substance; which unless it were good, could not be corrupted. I perceived therefore, and it was manifested to me that Thou madest all things good, nor is there any substance at all, which Thou madest not; and for that Thou madest not all things equal, therefore are all things; because each is good, and altogether very good, because our God made all things very good.[21]

[1]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[2]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 91.

[3]Desomond, Joan Frawley. “‘What If the Sexual Revolution Didn’t Make Women Happy?’ Mary Eberstadt Asks in New Book.” National Catholic Register. April 3, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2019. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/some-in-congress-defending-contraception-mandate-ask-where-are-the-women-he.

[4]Levering, 91.

[5]Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, “The Confessions as Prayer” Confessions Version 2.1.4 Villanova University. Accessed June 11, 2019.

[6]Levering, 91.

[7]Ibid, 92.

[8]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[9]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[10]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[11]Levering, 94.

[12]Augustine, and John K. Ryan. The Confessions of St. Augustine. (New York: Image Books, 2014), 28.

 

[13]Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, “Introduction to Book 2” Confessions Version 2.1.4 Villanova University. Accessed June 12, 2019.

[14]Dr. Jonathan Yates, “Augustine and Genesis 3” ConfessionsVersion 2.1.4 Villanova University.

[15]Levering, 95.

[16]Augustine, and John K. Ryan. The Confessions of St. Augustine, 65.

[17]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 599.

[18]Phillip Hadden, Fides et Ratio. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

[19]Levering, 96.

[20]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[21]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

 

 

Has God chosen you to love? St. Augustine: On the Predestination of the Saints

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St. Augustine is the cornerstone, so to speak, with the development of predestination theology and with its role of Grace and justification in the Christian life. The New Catholic Encyclopedia informs that “Prior to the time of St. Augustine the Fathers of the Church were not preoccupied with the problem of predestination. It was the bishop of Hippo who first treated the mystery exhaustively, with the theological decisiveness so characteristic of him.”[1]

The development of theology is often brought about from an expressed error in doctrine. Naturally, Augustine’s development of predestination theology was a response to Pelagius, a 4th-century priest from Britain, who argued that our will was utterly free to do good or evil and merit salvation from purely good works of one’s own accord. Pelagius’ heresy bears his name: Pelagianism. However, what is vital to understanding the Augustinian notion of predestination and justification is Augustine’s development of the concept of original sin.

In Catholicism, there are two competing ideas of free will and predestination. One is held by the Jesuits called Molinism, and the other is held by the Dominicans as a development of Thomistic theology. Fr. Luis De Molina, a 16th century Spanish Jesuit priest, is the one whose name is the origin of the Jesuit developed theology of predestination:

“Molina taught that there exists in God a knowledge of all possible beings, as well as a knowledge of all possible orders of things. As a result, God knows all possible free acts of all possible men in all possible world orders. Presupposing this knowledge on the part of God, He, for His own reasons, freely chooses one order of things and wills its fulfillment. Thus, He chooses, those men to be saved whom in this world order He has foreseen would make good use of the graces that would be granted to them in these particular circumstances, men whom He has foreseen would persevere and ultimately merit eternal felicity…The explanation of Molina is founded on his opinion concerning the manner by which God knows future free acts. He maintains that this knowledge is in God independently of any decree of the will of God that would physically predetermine the will of man to one course of action, PREDETERMINATION, he holds, would destroy human freedom.”[2]

 The New Catholic Encyclopedia examines the response to Molinism from the Dominicans, namely from Fr. Domingo Banez:

Domingo Báñez. In opposition to Molina, the Spanish Dominican theologian held that predestination to glory, viewed in itself, is decreed before the provision of any merits whatsoever (ante praevisa merita). The very first action of God concerning the chosen group of men (the elect) is their election to glory, and, conversely, His very first action concerning the rest of men is their exclusion from glory or from an efficacious election to glory. This predestination of certain souls to glory before the prevision of their merits is, of course, not a result of any merit on the part of man, but is entirely gratuitous. God wills this by reason of His absolute dominion over all creatures and through His inscrutable counsel. This is the first decree of God in the order of intention…To those who were not elected, the negatively reprobated, God, subsequently to the decree excluding them from glory or from an efficacious election to glory, decrees not to give them efficacious graces, but graces that are merely sufficient.”[3]

 What is interesting, as explained by Matthew Levering in his book The Theology of Augustine, is that St. Augustine seems to hold the former view at one point and moves to what the Dominican view holds today. Of course, The Dominican view, influenced from St. Thomas Aquinas, is more or less a synthesis of the latter Augustinian understanding of Grace and predestination. Levering writes, “His opponents advocated a view that Augustine himself once held—namely, that predestination depended on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s free act of faith. On the Predestination of the Saints, however, Augustine argues that God’s Grace causes the free charitable actions by which we attain eternal life.”[4]

Naturally, the understanding of the history of St. Augustine’s debate with Pelagianism, the Dominicans viewed the Jesuit understanding, God’s ‘middle knowledge’ as Molina called it, to be Pelagius in origin. At which point both sides labeled the other heretics, and the matter was brought before Pope Clement VIII and decided by Pope Paul V. The papacy did not make a doctrinal pronouncement on the, and it was determined either view could be held by a Catholic.

In both systems, the elect is chosen by God for salvation. The difficulty in Molina’s system is that by attaching a radical free will away from God and asserting that God gives efficacious Grace to those whom he knows will only accept due to his all-knowingness tends to struggle with the philosophical understanding of God’s nature and Divine Revelation. The knowledge of God’s nature through the proofs of God’s existence by St. Thomas Aquinas indicates that God’s nature is existence itself. In some respect, one might say that all creation participates in God’s Divine nature. If there is no God—there would be nothing. Therefore, it would be hard to explain how humanity’s will would then somehow be outside of God’s very own nature. Naturally, the Molinists will state that God merely respects our free choice, but that sentiment isn’t unique to Molinism and can still be used within the Dominican understanding of Grace.

In accord with Holy Scripture, the Catholic Church teaches that God desires us all to be saved—not that we all will be saved:

CCC 74God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”: that is, of Christ Jesus.30Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:[5]

 1 Tim. 2:3-4 RSV

 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.[6]

Mathew Levering examines that Augustine, “emphasizing the radical priority of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Augustine focuses the debate away from the difficulties caused by the fact that God does not predestine all persons.”[7]How are we to feel about this? It’s a concept that would be surmised that many Catholics do not know or understand it. Bishop Robert Barron explains the difficulty of this theological understanding in a short video on the differences between Grace and karma, why does God choose some and others? Why did God choose David—forgive David—and not Saul, whom he did not forgive?

God desires all to be saved and gives us all grace sufficient to be saved. However, as Fr. Thomas Joseph White explains in his book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism, “no one can come to know God personally and approach God with genuine love for God unless God first acts upon a person’s mind and heart by Grace. Grace is a participation in the very life of God…Grace makes us friends with God…” Prevenient grace” is a term used frequently by St. Augustine. It denotes a central New Testament teaching: we cannot take any initiative to turn toward God unless he first takes the initiative to turn us toward himself. This mystery does not entail a denial of free will, but its affirmation.”[8]

Mary, the mother of God, is the perfect example of how our will works with Grace. Now, according to Catholic teaching, Mary was conceived without sin due to a special grace afforded to her by God in which the paschal mystery sanctifies her so that she can be Christ’s mother. In Luke’s Gospel, there is some indication of the special Grace afforded to her by the particular tense of the participle used by Luke. “In the RSV translation, Gabriel says, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”…[9]The importance of this particular passage is “full of grace,” which comes from the Greek word “kecharitomene.” The tense of this specific verb form is a perfect passive participle, and the message that it conveys doesn’t rightly translate into English. A perfect passive participle verb indicates something that occurs in the past, present, and future; therefore, what Gabriel is saying to Mary, and Luke is recording, is that Mary is with Grace through all time of her existence—she is conceived without sin.”[10]

What is understood from Mary in the scripture is that our wills that are not tainted with original sin are properly ordered with the will of God. In fact, the Augustinian understanding is that because all goodness comes from God and his graces, our choices to choose evil against His will which is perfect and all good, therefore must be from our own will alone. It is by this understanding that is revealed that we are saved by God alone and damned by our own actions.

Augustine teaches that since the fall of our first parents, original sin is spread to the entirety of the human race through the propagation of our human race. It’s interesting that Catholic scientist attempt to overlook Augustine in this particular teaching of the Church like Fr. Nicanor Austriaco O.P., often wrongly labeling Augustine a creation fundamentalist to promote polygenism. However, the magisterium of the Catholic Church from the promulgation of Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his encyclical Humani Generiswith authoritative language has declared that because of the doctrine of original sin, our current human race is the progeny of two distinct parents. Pope Pius XII writes:

37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]

 38. Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies.[13] This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.[11]

 There are three key points to understand when reflecting on these words from Pope Pius XII. The first, we are the progeny of our first parents that disobeyed God. The second, the disobedience of our first parents has created a fallen race, which is not inherently good but is a depraved race. And finally, as Levering points out, “Since Adam and Eve’s fall, the entire human race had been wounded by sin, so as to be in need of a savior.”[12]A Catholic who was to hold to the polygenetic model would simply render Jesus Christ as unneeded because the doctrine of Original Sin is founded on the precept of first parents who then spread that curse to their progeny.

It’s important to note that St. Augustine is making the point that good people who do good things do not go to heaven. God’s friendship is a gift and his invitation to live a life of holiness. Levering reminds us that “Paul here makes it clear that we are not the giver of gifts to God; rather, everything that we have is from God…the act of faith meritorious…It is a good act, and God certainly does reward it. But rewarding a good work of ours. God rewards his gifting that moved us to freely do the good work. All things are radically from God.”[13]

The Dominican understanding is far closer to this particular understand than the Jesuit, as levering points out “we must follow Paul in refusing to claim anything, including our act of faith, as originating from ourselves rather than from God.[14]The Jesuit understanding, Molinism, would argue instead that our actions are our own in response to efficacious Grace rather than the Dominican understanding of an infused movement of habitual Grace. Protestant reformed theology, from Calvin; which influences Evangelicals to Baptist, will attempt to counter this understanding and argue that Catholicism teaches a Gospel of ‘sacramental grace.’ What these objectors do admit is that the Catholic faith is one of Grace—it’s undeniable by those who put forth an effort to study Catholic theology. However, what they fail to understand is the Catholic understanding of the human will and its cooperation with God’s Grace; building the habits of virtue and repenting of the habits of vice. In this context, the salvation of the elect without free will is one that fails to understand Christ’s words, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[15]

Augustine’s opponent attempt to disparage him through his change of position on the matter of Grace and election by showing him to be at odds with Cyprian. Levering explains here that Augustine once held the Molina system of election but then in his Retractionsrejected it:[16]

Augustine writes:

 For thus also the blessed Cyprian would have it to be understood that we say, “Thy will be done, as in heaven so in earth,”—that is, as in those who have already believed, and who are, as it were, heaven, so also in those who do not believe, and on this account are still the earth. What, then, do we pray for on behalf of those who are unwilling to believe, except that God would work in them to will also? Certainly the apostle says, “Brethren, my heart’s good will, indeed, and my prayer to God for them, is for their salvation.” He prays for those who do not believe,—for what, except that they may believe? For in no other way do they obtain salvation. If, then, the faith of the petitioners precede the Grace of God, does the faith of them on whose behalf prayer is made that they may believe precede the Grace of God?—since this is the very thing that is besought for them, that on them that believe not—that is, who have not faith—faith itself may be bestowed? When, therefore, the Gospel is preached, some believe, some believe not; but they who believe at the voice of the preacher from without, hear of the Father from within, and learn; while they who do not believe, hear outwardly, but inwardly do not hear nor learn;—that is to say, to the former it is given to believe; to the latter it is not given.[17]

Levering writes, “from his Retractions that he quotes On the Predestination of the Saints, Augustine points out that there is no reason for supposing that our act of faith, like our other good acts, is not also caused by God’s gracious mercy…Since we receive everything from God, there is no space for an action that is solely or primarily our own…God does not respond to our good action and reward it by Grace; rather, God’s Grace causes our free good action.”[18]

St. Augustine explains, “Therefore I ought first to show that the faith by which we are Christians is the gift of God, if I can do that more thoroughly than I have already done in so many and so large volumes. But I see that I must now reply to those who say that the divine testimonies which I have adduced concerning this matter are of avail for this purpose, to assure us that we have faith itself of ourselves, but that its increase is of God; as if faith were not given to us by Him, but were only increased in us by Him, on the ground of the merit of its having begun from us.”[19]

Naturally, this begs the question, how does our free will exactly cooperate with God’s Grace? The Calvinist answer is that it doesn’t cooperate with it. In fact, the argument proposed by them is that God is sovereign over all things, including those who are to be saved and those who will be damned. Your decision has no bearing on God’s will. Again, this goes back to the understanding of sin as a deprivation of the good. Levering explains that “grace enables us freely to embrace a good we otherwise could not have embraced.”[20]

 So, you may hear an Evangelical street preacher say something of the nature, “I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ,” which doesn’t contradict any points made by Levering his book The Theology of Augustine. However, the foundation of their theology rests on the premise of faith is the key to justification and no works. “Augustine’s opponents cite Romans 10:9: If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…Augustine observes that those who hold that faith precedes grace get themselves into a tangle regarding infants who die before they are old enough to make an act of faith.”[21]Augustine writes:

Accordingly, as says the apostle, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,” who both comes to the help of such infants as He will, although they neither will nor run, since He chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world as those to whom He intended to give His Grace freely,—that is, with no merits of theirs, either of faith or of works, preceding; and does not come to the help of those who are more mature, although He foresaw that they would believe His miracles if they should be done among them, because He wills not to come to their help, since in His predestination He, secretly indeed, but yet righteously, has otherwise determined concerning them. [22]

The problem with this, as Levering points out, “Jesus himself call faith a work of God that we must do.”[23]Naturally, what is pointed out to do a work of God that he commands you to do is no different from the Catholic understanding of doing works of mercy, which Jesus commands us in Matthew 25 and St. Paul explains in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

According to the Gospel of John, doesn’t Christ say that all shall be taught? The difficulty with Augustine’s answer is that he asserts that “God teaches everyone who is taught,” which on the surface seems to be poor logic.”[24]However, this is where, ironically, both the Molinist system and the Calvinist understanding appears to be the strongest. Augustine writes:

“And immediately the evangelist says, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the believers, and who should betray Him; and He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me except it were given him of my Father.” Therefore, to be drawn to Christ by the Father, and to hear and learn of the Father in order to come to Christ, is nothing else than to receive from the Father the gift by which to believe in Christ. For it was not the hearers of the Gospel that were distinguished from those who did not hear, but the believers from those who did not believe, by Him who said, “No man cometh to me except it were given him of my Father.”[25]

 So, how exactly can one side who presents a position of radical free will and the other claim God’ total sovereignty hinge on the same argument? It’s where the one stresses it’s the interpretation of Augustine that leads to their conclusion. For example, The Molinist claim that God’s middle knowledge allows him to respect free will and know who will accept efficacious Grace. The Calvinist positon appeals strictly to the idea that there are hearers and there are those who the Gospel falls on deaf ears. Levering explains, “Augustine is aware of the circular argument that results from his position. God does not teach all because those who are perishing do not wish to learn. He teaches all who are open to learning….the Church prays for everyone living, because God may yet turn the hearts of those who now oppose him.”[26]

[1]PALLADINO, A. G. “Predestination (In Catholic Theology).” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Gale, 2003, pp. 647-653. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.uis.edu:2048/apps/doc/CX3407709067/GVRL?u=uiuc_uis&sid=GVRL&xid=f22692e8. Accessed 2 June 2019.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 71.

[5]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 24.

[6]1 Tim 2:3–4. RSV

[7]Ibid.

[8]Fr. Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2017), 197.

[9]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 1:28.

[10]Phillip Hadden, The Nativity of Christ in History. 2019, Unpublished manuscript

[11]Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, 37-38.

[12]Levering, 72.

[13]Ibid, 73.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Mt. 5:48 RSV

[16]Levering, 74.

[17]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 505–506.

[18]Ibid, 74-75

[19]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 499.

[20]Levering, 76.

[21]Ibid, 81.

[22]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 534.

[23]Levering, 81.

[24]Ibid, 77.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, 506.

[26]Levering, 79.

Introduction: Augustine’s Homilies on the First Epistle of John.

Seghers, Gerard, 1591-1651; The Four Doctors of the Western Church: Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

It is from the beginning of his prologue on the Homilies on the First Epistle of John that Augustine explains in his usual rhetorical grandeur that, “as in this same Epistle, which is very sweet to all who have a healthy taste of the heart to relish the Bread of God, and very meet to be had in remembrance in God’s Holy Church, charity is above all commended. He has spoken many words, and nearly all are about charity.”[1]Matthew Levering in his book, The Theology of Augustine, explains that from the beginning of St. Augustine’s discourse on the examination on the Epistles of John that “1 John should ignite a fire of love within us.”[2]

Augustine wrote and preached these homilies during the Easter season around the age of 53 in 407 A.D.[3]Levering indicates that these homilies can be broken into two different sections with the first being homilies one thru five and the second half being six thru ten.

 

First Section Homilies 1-5:

 The subjects of both sections of the homilies deal with the disagreement with the Donatist faction of the Church in North Africa. In the first section, Augustine deals with the particular disagreement of the Donatist that claimed that priests to confer the sacraments of the Church must be without the blemish of sin during their entire life. Naturally, Augustine with the beginning third of his life living a life of hedonistic sin took issue with the Donatist position of an unblemished life, although Augustine did agree that a Christian should live a life of Charity.[4]Furthermore, what Augustine understands is that the priest stands in persona Christi and as Alter Christus when he confers the sacraments of the Church, which is why he argues with his Homily on John 5.5 that “Proud Ministers are reckoned with the Devil. But the Gift of Christ, which is pure and flows through them, is not thereby contaminated.”[5]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in regards to the priesthood:

1550This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.[6]

 What is important for many of the faithful to realize is that although priests by virtue of the sacrament of the Holy Orders act In Persona Christi and the imprint of their ordination is forever, they are still men in the sense that they’re still affected by concupiscence which can lead them to sin. In our present age, as the scandals of the Catholic Church reveal the sins of many who lead the Church, it is the place for a well-catechized laity to help steer the ark back on course like those such as St. Benedict of Nursia or St. Catherine of Siena.

Second Section Homilies 6-10:

 As explained by Levering, the second section of the Homilies tackle the division of the Donatist into a solely regional Church. Augustine would rebuke this as contrary to the Gospel and the letters of St. Paul. Of course, he would do so in lieu of Christ’s command at the end of the Gospel of Matthew to evangelizing the faith:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” [7]

 During the end of the 20thcentury and carried into 21stcentury, as Christians continually live in an increasingly secularized culture in the west, these particular Christians act as if Jesus is some distant concept, but the Incarnation is the spoken Word of God. The spoken Word is still among us. He still commands us to obey His commandments. He is present in the Church; its Liturgy, its sacraments—especially the Holy Eucharist, be reminded his last words in the Gospel of Matthew, “behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

It is important to reinterpret Augustine’s critique of the Donatist’s nationalist/ethinic churches (which still do exist: Church of England and eastern Christianity) into a critique against the increasing relativism that seeks to prevent the evangelization of the Gospel in our current cultural climate. It’s a critique need at the very least to ask why some Catholic schools seek to remove statues of missionaries or cover up historical paintings of the evangelizing the faith in the Americas, as to not offend the seemingly new puritan ideals of what is acceptable expressions in the culture. Again, it’s not a critique to ignore a great number of atrocities that occurred; however, it also does not follow that all Christian missionaries were responsible for humanitarian crimes. Of course, many will hear still the horrors of colonization, but we’re experiencing nothing different from those very sentiments as occurred in the past of competing world views attempting to gain a foothold in the current culture. If Christ is the savior of the world? Isn’t it uncharitable not to evangelize the faith?

All baptized Catholics are baptized into the common priesthood of Christ: priest, prophet, and king.[8]As being baptized into the role of prophet, the Catechism teaches it is the duty of the “905 Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, “that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.” For lay people, “this evangelization … acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.”[9]

 

 

[1]Augustine of Hippo, “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 459.

[2]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2013), 49.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5] Rev. John Rotelle, Augustine Day by Day (New Jersey: Catholic Publishing Corp, 1986), .

[6]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 387.

[7]Mt 28:17–20 RSV

[8]CCC 1241: The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one “anointed” by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.”

[9]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 239.

St. Augustine: On Christian Doctrine Commentary–Full Text

Augustine

In his book The Theology of Augustine, Matthew Levering focuses on the theme of love, what is love and how it functions in Christian teaching. As Levering examines, according to Augustine, Scripture teaches how to love. It must be vital for the interpreter of scripture to recognize how the words of scripture direct us to love of God.

So what does it mean to love? Typically, society tends to agree that being a loving person is being a good person, so perhaps, we should start at the question—What does it mean to be good? If a person loves someone there is an act in regard to that person, a willing of the good, or rather, the perfection of that person. Theologian Fr. Thomas Joseph White O.P. writes in his book The Light of Christ, “Goodness is the property of something that has reached its perfection or its goal…A good person typically is taken to be a person who is capable of virtuous moral actions, of justice, charity, mercy, and kindness toward others.”[1]

It is prudent to point out that what is justice, charity, mercy, and kindness toward others isn’t necessarily what another person thinks will make them happy or feel good. Prior to the rise of Christian Neo-Platonic thought around the 3rdand 4thcentury A.D. in Western society, these sentiments were expressed by a group who expressed skepticism against the works of Plato and Aristotle as those schools of thought lacked a development with any theology of their own. The group known as the Epicureans “sought a lifestyle of hedonism focusing on pleasure. These groups (the Stoics) without divine revelation to serve as a development for philosophy tended toward an ideology of self-interest.”[2]

Naturally, it must be understood that within the Christian moral system an adherence to love and to partake in the pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God, a person is called to deny themselves of perceived pleasures that are not necessarily going to lead them to a perfecting of themselves—a life of holiness—or the goal of heaven. For example, Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[3]Naturally, if we pair this expression with the beginning of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[4]It is to be understood that the commandments of the Old Testament are given by Christ. In fact, Jesus says as much, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.[5]

What I hope to make clear in regards to love is that it is intimately connected to the good news and the repentance of sin that when we are told that “day shall dawn upon[f] us from on high79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace,”[6]to get the full sense of the good news of Easter Sunday, God desires “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”[7]Every Catholic is reminded of the words of Jesus’ call to repentance on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, when they receive ashes on their forehead, as “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”[8]

Now, an objection usually occurs that says something of the nature, “If Jesus did come to change the law, why are Christians called to follow only some of these Old Testament laws.” The skeptic, or even Christian for that matter, usually fails to recognize a distinction in Judaic understanding of laws. In our modern society, we have different variations of the law, for example: misdemeanor and classes of felonies. In Ancient Judaic-Christianity, there is a distinction between Ritual and Moral law. Catholic Apologist Trent Horn explains in his book Hard Sayings that “St. Paul taught that the Mosaic Law was useful in teaching the Jews how to be holy, but it was incapable of saving them from sin (Gal. 3:10).”[9]Horn goes onto quote Scripture professor at the Augustine Institute Mark Giszczak for a further understanding, “Moral Law has to do with universal principles of right and wrong.  Ritual and ceremonial law has to do with symbolic, religious cleanness and uncleanness in Old Testament religion. Judicial or civil law involves structures for the administration of the law in the Old Testament…Aquinas teaches that the ritual and judicial laws have abrogated, but the moral law still holds. So we can eat bacon, but we can’t eat our neighbor.”[10]

So, it is important to understand these distinctions to understand scripture and St. Augustine makes this point. He explains that if the Holy Spirit can give us an understanding of Holy Scripture, the normal method to learn how to interpret it is from teachers. Every once in a while, I watch Evangelical street preaches on Youtube. Of course, one of the main targets for these street preachers are Catholics, so they’ll often stand in front of a Catholic Church while people are going into Mass and announce to them that they’re adherent to a false gospel. Naturally, some Catholics will come over and speak to them about the development of scripture, remind them that Sola Scriptura is not found in the scripture, and the history and development of the Church. At this point, I’ve heard the preacher’s response, “did you learn that at Bible college or seminary? You have man’s gospel not God’s gospel. I know how to interpret scripture because the Spirit is upon me” In this juncture of the conversation, as the Evangelical will only adhere to the text itself, to plant the seed from St. Augustine that scripture shows that the proper way to learn what the scripture says is from human teachers in as St. Paul needed to go to Ananias in Acts 9.[11]

In Book One, St. Augustine examines that there are two tasks with interpreting scripture:

 

  1. Discovering What there is to be learned
  2. Teaching what one has discovered.

 

St. Augustine also explains that in scripture there must be distinction between things and signs. Perhaps, it could be philosophically explained as matter and metaphysical or even simply the physical and the spiritual. St Augustine makes clear:

 “All instruction is either about things or about signs; but things are learnt by means of signs. I now use the word “thing” in a strict sense, to signify that which is never employed as a sign of anything else: for example, wood, stone, cattle, and other things of that kind.Not, however, the wood which we read Moses cast into the bitter waters to make them sweet, nor the stone which Jacob used as a pillow,4nor the ram which Abraham offered up instead of his son; for these, though they are things, are also signs of other things. There are signs of another kind, those which are never employed except as signs: for example, words. No one uses words except as signs of something else; and hence may be understood what I call signs: those things, to wit, which are used to indicate something else. Accordingly, every sign is also a thing; for what is not a thing is nothing at all. Every thing, however, is not also a sign.” [12]

 One of the most famous examples in the Old Testament of typological signs is found in the examination of God’s test of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac:

22 ¶* After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only-begotten son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son;* and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

¶ When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only-begotten son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.[13]

In this particular narrative the interpreter finds several signs. For example, Abraham is a sign of God—The Father and Isaac is symbol of God—the Son. They partake in a journey up a mountain so that Abraham may sacrifice is only begotten son in atonement while Isaac carries the wood with which will be used to make said sacrifice. Of course, God stays the hand of Abraham but provides another provision for Abraham to make atonement—which God will do with His Son.

There is a difficulty in our modern culture to understand signs. Currently we live in a society of secular rational materialism in one hand and often in the other hand religiously of spiritual fideism. Christians are best served by utilizing the three modes of gaining knowledge: Theology, Philosophy, and Science to avoid the pitfalls of either position in their search for God and truth.[14]In our academic fields, only things constitute as evidence or proofs and we often find in our spiritual lives the sentiment of being ‘spiritual but not religious’—this is not orthodox Christianity.

Originally, science was a subcategory of philosophy, it taught that it was our senses that led us to our understanding of the beyond. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Proofs for the Existence of God are built from an understanding of observation from the material world. In Aquinas’ cosmological argument for the existence of God, he illustrates three observations:

1. Change (growth) is motion, what is in motion needs a mover.

  1. What is caused needs a cause.
  2. What could possibly exist, could not exist, all possible existence needs a necessary existence.

St. Augustine’s Guide for Things:

  1. A person must learn to use things in pursuit of perfection or their end—Holiness and God/Heaven.
  2. Recognition that the world (creature/material) is good, not infinite good for which we were made; cannot give us eternal happiness.

So, examining the Christian faith, we begin to understand that it is inherent that things play a vital role, but they are to lead to the eternal spiritually. In the history of philosophy, the pre-Socratics were materialist that could not move past their own material observations. Naturally, they were followed by the Platonist with the emphasis on the spirit over matter. In our modern society, the camps tend to break into factions of either materialist or spiritualist, whereas, Christianity from the Gospels have always highlighted a both/and understanding of the person.

For instance, The Incarnation is the putting on flesh of the divine second person. The institution of the Eucharist is Christ giving us the grace of His sacred body and precious blood through the material accidents of bread and wine.

Augustine in Book One writes on the importance of the Incarnation moving us toward purification in our souls:

  1. But of this we should have been wholly incapable, had not Wisdom condescended to adapt Himself to our weakness, and to show us a pattern of holy life in the form of our own humanity. Yet, since we when we come to Him do wisely, He when He came to us was considered by proud men to have done very foolishly. And since we when we come to Him become strong, He when He came to us was looked upon as weak. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” And thus, though Wisdom was Himself our home, He made Himself also the way by which we should reach our home.[15]

In the Gospel of Mark, the physical body plays a central role in the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. It is through the death of the body where Jesus gives an invitation to faith to her father. Also, when Jesus goes to the little girl; he reaches and gently takes her hand and speaks to her body to say “arise.” Jesus doesn’t look to the heavens, he doesn’t call down here spirit to her body, but rather, speaks to her body as if she is still present. Jesus instructs us that the body is central to the mystery of soteriology and the resurrection of the body:

35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 ¶ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 ¶ Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and walked; for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were overcome with amazement. 43 ¶ And he strictly charged them that no one should know this,* and told them to give her something to eat. [16]

Christianity has always been a religion where things matter.

How does humanity speak of God?

A Skeptics may object to Christian theology saying, “The Greek Gods are now myths, no one believes in them anymore, why is your God any different?” Matthew Levering explains, “Our human concepts of God fall infinitely short of God. But even though our words about God are inadequate, nonetheless we can speak truth about God…Some conceive of God as the sun or as the entire cosmos; some conceive of gods among which one is primary. But we do not conceive of God truthfully in these ways.”[17]

Levering explains that each person of the Trinity are things in their relation to being that we are meant to enjoy. In the second person of the Trinity, Levering writes, “the divine Word, while remaining unchanged in itself, assumed a human nature so that we could see, hear, and touch him. Christ is both physician and medicine to our wound of sin.”

Augustine writes about the Incaranation and the Word:

chap. 13.—the word was made flesh

In what way did He come but this, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”? Just as when we speak, in order that what we have in our minds may enter through the ear into the mind of the hearer, the word which we have in our hearts becomes an outward sound and is called speech; and yet our thought does not lose itself in the sound, but remains complete in itself, and takes the form of speech without being modified in its own nature by the change: so the Divine Word, though suffering no change of nature, yet became flesh, that He might dwell among us.[18]
What is interesting in Levering’s particular work on the theme of Love within the theology of Augustine is that it appears that completely ignores love’s relationship with judgment. Levering explains, “In the Church, which is his “body” (Eph. 1:23), he unites us in charity with him and with each other. Those who love him are liberated from the slavery of sin and will live in glorious union with him forever. Christ calls us to enjoy him now and eternally”[19]

Augustine explains the judgment of those who fail to conform to the truth:

19. Now he whose soul does not die to this world and begin here to be conformed to the truth, falls when the body dies into a more terrible death, and shall revive, not to change his earthly for a heavenly habitation, but to endure the penalty of his sin.[20]

What is “right ordered love?”

Levering explains in his book, The Theology of Augustine, “When we love others and ourselves on account of God, we “use” ourselves and others rather than “enjoy” ourselves and others. In other words, God is our Goal. All our other relationships find their fullness in relation to our enjoyment of God. God gives us our ultimate happiness.”

Augustine explains this in detail, “Neither ought any one to have joy in himself, if you look at the matter clearly, because no one ought to love even himself for his own sake, but for the sake of Him who is the true object of enjoyment. For a man is never in so good a state as when his whole life is a journey towards the unchangeable life, and his affections are entirely fixed upon that. If, however, he loves himself for his own sake, he does not look at himself in relation to God, but turns his mind in upon himself, and so is not occupied with anything that is unchangeable.” [21]

What is interesting when examining Augustine’s understanding of properly ordered love is that it is contradiction with many of the prevailing schools of thought today in our Western culture birthed from modern philosophy that began with Rene Descartes 1596-1650. In fact, it is with Descartes where humanity began to turn their thought inward into what is commonly referred to as relativism today. In classical philosophy from the Greeks, it is understood that objects inform the intellect what they are in relation, but with Descartes’ understanding it is rather the intellect that determines what objects are as they are perceived by that particular intellect. Professor Ralph McInerny explains in his book, A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas, that Descartes “invented a little game called Methodic Doubt. He would sort through what he thought he knew and ask himself if it was not imaginable that it was false.”[22]

The famous Cartesian example is the straight stick that convex in the water appearing to be curved. What is puzzling is that Descartes seems to ignore that philosophy is the deposit of all knowledge. Humans know through their senses that water causes items to convex. It is also know that a stick could be straight or curved. So, the determination that one cannot trust their senses based on sight alone doesn’t appear to follow the ultimate conclusion. The great lengths of Cartesian skepticism is astonishing to the degree that in the end, Descartes concludes that you can only trust that you are because other ‘facts’ could be the result of a demon whispering in your ear.

What is determined by this examination of modern philosophy is that in order to love properly, humanity must learn how to orient their relationship to things. Once the proper hierarchy of knowing is understood—how we can understand things—one can also order their love in “use” as “use” therefore signifies rightly ordered love rather than manipulation or instrumentalization.”[23]To love orderly is to love correctly love God, but it’s important to understand that our love for God is not for His benefit. God does not need our love. When a person loves God it is in benefit to them, which is what God desires for us.

Augustine writes, “No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself.”[24]So, humanity is called to rightly use things in relation to rightly ordered love for the purpose of the enjoyment of God. However, God doesn’t love us for our own sake, but rather for his own goodness. Augustine explains, “God, however, in His use of us, has reference to His own goodness. For it is because He is good we exist; and so far as we truly exist we are good.”[25]

 

Book 2

 God Makes Interpreting Scripture Difficult.

Levering poses a question to his reader, “If Scripture is an instrument of salvation, then why does it need interpretation? Augustine argues that God allowed obscurities and ambiguities to be present in Scriputre so that those who intellectually proud might be humbled by the labor of interpretation and so that the message of Scripture might not be disdained because it seemed to simple.”[26]It’s interesting that Augustine makes this point because prior to meeting St. Ambrose of Milan, this more or less was his position on scripture. Classics professor Robin Lane Fox writes in his biography of Augustine, “On Sundays, Augustine recalls, he would come to listen attentively to Ambrose’s sermons. People talked and interrupted, as we can infer from Ambrose’s own words, but Augustine was not troubled. He was not there to take in the contents, and yet as he listened to the style, his ‘heart’, typically, opened to what was being spoken…Ambrose was the first person to show him that concealed other meanings, or allegories, could be discerned in awkward verses of scripture.”[27]

Seven Steps to Interpret Scripture

In book two of On Christian DoctrineAugustine lists seven steps needed to interpret scripture:

  1. Holy Fear of God
  2. Piety

3.Knowledge

  1. Fortitude
  2. Mercy
  3. Purity of Heart
  4. Wisdom

Naturally, a Christians will be able see a connection with the list of these particular seven steps with other lists such as the seven Capital Virtues and the Seven Gifts the Holy Spirit that every Catholic is sealed with on the date of their confirmation:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church examines these Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit in paragraph 1831:

1831The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.[28]

The Catechism also references how these particular gifts are incorporated during the Liturgy when Bishop lays his hands on the confirmands:

1299In the Roman Rite the bishop extends his hands over the whole group of the confirmands. Since the time of the apostles this gesture has signified the gift of the Spirit. The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words: (1831)

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

by water and the Holy Spirit

you freed your sons and daughters from sin

and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them

to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of right judgment and courage,

the spirit of knowledge and reverence.

Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.[29]

 

Matthew Levering explains in his book, The Theology of Augustine, what each particular step means in regards to scripture. He explains that the fear of God is a reminder of our needed humility in the presence of God. Piety is also connected to humility in the respect that we attempted to defend our sins by the word of God. Of course, knowledge is needed so that we can love in a right ordered way and not by putting creature ahead of God. Levering reminds us that “In fear of God and piety, the interpreter of Scripture must begin, therefore, by the lamenting his sins.”[30](emphasis my own).

What is interesting about this point is that this understanding of the fear of God and piety can be brought by us to the work of the Liturgy of the Mass. A rebuke from those who deny the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is often heard in this or similar manner, “If you actually receive the Body of Christ and are a part of His body, how come all those who eat and drink his body and blood do not change?” It is a fair point to make against this particular teaching of the Church. What this challenge should do for each of us Catholics is to reorder our love toward God. So, if we take a look at scripture, St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians explains the reason why there is no change in many who partake in the sacrament of the Eucharist:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.[31]

What St. Paul is reminding us is that those who come to Mass need to allow their souls to receive the Savior of the World. If any of us are to fill ourselves with the notion that we are generally generally good, our souls have already been filled with a worldly understanding that cannot give us salvation. If one thinks he or she is generally good and coming to Mass is the work that makes them good, the idea borders on semi-pelagianism. The revelation from God found in the body of the Incarnation, Scripture, and His Church is the grace of mercy. A sentiment understood by Pope Francis in his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he writes, “the prophet (Ezekiel) speaks of shame, and shame is a grace: when one feels the mercy of God, he feels a great shame for himself and his sins.”[32]There is a nuance though of the role of the Church and the Grace of God to be understood. If one examines scripture, whether it is Pharaoh in the Exodus or Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist, the open admonishment of their sins in public hardened their hearts. However, we find in the Gospel of Luke the Prodigal Son who is welcomed by his father when shame of his own actions brings contrition to his heart. The Church should not shy away of teaching what is sin, it is inherently part of the Gospel, but those in the Church should remind themselves daily of their need for the fear of the Lord this how we build fortitude to have mercy. When we can learn to have mercy on even our enemies we can keep our hearts clean so that we can hear from Holy Spirit wisdom.

 

How to be knowledge of Scripture?

It’s simple, read the scripture. Augustine writes:

“14. In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them.”[33]

So, how are we to know constitutes as scripture? Levering explains, “To be knowledgeable in Scripture, one must have read the canonical books of Scripture. Those book are canonical that are accepted by the great majority of the most important churches. He lists these books, including (among books that were later contested) Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach.”[34]It is interesting as Levering highlights is that Augustine defends the use of the Septuagint where it differs from the Hebrew manuscripts due to the esteem that Augustine held within Reformation circles.[35]Some of the motivation of participants in the Reformation was a return to authentic early Christian teaching, so they looked at what books the Jews were using in their canon to establish what they would accept as their own. The problem with this particular understanding is that the change of Canon in the Jewish religion occurred after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. During the 1stcentury A.D. a great many Jews could no longer speak Hebrew, so they used what is known as the Septuagint—the Greek translated Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus’ canon would be reflective of the one listed by Augustine.

Augustine also recognizes that proper understanding and knowledge get lost in cultural and historical contexts when texts are translated into different languages. For example, many who object to the historicity of the Roman Census in Luke’s Gospel is that Joseph didn’t need to go to Bethlehem. So, it is was literary invention from Luke. The problem with this particular understanding is with the Greek word “katalyma.” “Dr. Edward Sri of the Augustine Institute illuminates the use of the word as it can “refer to a guest room, a house, an inn or simply ‘a place to say.’ It is best to translate this word simply a ‘lodging’ to keep open the various possible settings in which Christ may have entered the world.”[36]The translator is also cautioned by Augustine not to be too literal with translated words; therefore, a diversity of translations can serve the interpreter of Scripture.  [37]

Book 3

How to Distinguish between the Literal and Figurative?

Matthew Levering explains that Augustine determines that the interpreter can distinguish from the literal and figurative by knowing that “signs can be literal only if they accord with the truth of faith.”[38]Therefore, the interpreter does have some freedom in exercising an interpretation of Scripture so long that it does not contradict the Deposit of Faith handed to us by Apostolic Teaching, Creeds, Dogma, Doctrine, and the Magisterium.

In examining Matthew Levering’s book The Theology of Augustine, Levering leaves out a lot material written by St. Augustine. Naturally, Levering is focusing on the theme of love in his thesis for his book writing, “If one interprets Scripture to say something opposed to charity, one has misinterpreted scripture.”[39]Again, the context of this particular sentiment begs the question, what is charity? What is love? Many in our modern culture would argue that any attempt to subvert the will of another is an act that is opposite of charity—an act of violence. For the sake of clarity, it should be understood that Augustine would not agree with this understanding of what constitutes as love. For those to know what is love or charity, they need to know what is good and what is evil, what is sin and what is virtue. In fact, Augustine totally rejects the modern notion that the diversity of cultures indicates a diversity of truths—the common retort, “That may be what you believe is the truth, but I have my own.” Augustine writes:

  1. But when men unacquainted with other modes of life than their own meet with the record of such actions, unless they are restrained by authority, they look upon them as sins, and do not consider that their own customs either in regard to marriage, or feasts, or dress, or the other necessities and adornments of human life, appear sinful to the people of other nations and other times. And, distracted by this endless variety of customs, some who were half asleep (as I may say)—that is, who were neither sunk in the deep sleep of folly, nor were able to awake into the light of wisdom—have thought that there was no such thing as absolute right, but that every nation took its own custom for right; and that, since every nation has a different custom, and right must remain unchangeable, it becomes manifest that there is no such thing as right at all. Such men did not perceive, to take only one example, that the precept, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” cannot be altered by any diversity of national customs. And this precept, when it is referred to the love of God, destroys all vices; when to the love of one’s neighbor, puts an end to all crimes. For no one is willing to defile his own dwelling; he ought not, therefore, to defile the dwelling of God, that is, himself. And no one wishes an injury to be done him by another; he himself, therefore, ought not to do injury to another.[40]

 The understanding of knowing that there is absolute truth and absolute wrong that transcends human cultures is vital to the foundation of Levering’s thesis that scripture must be interpreted with love.

 

Book 4

Matthew Levering in his book, The Theology of Augustine, explains that book four of On Christian doctrine was written sometime after the other three.[41]Nonetheless, Augustine writes about the proper teaching of scripture from the interpreter of it. Levering writes, “Augustine emphasizes that prayer before speaking is primary, but he also points out that St. Paul taught Timothy and Titus what they should teach others. Although the Holy Spirit raises up Christian teachers, nonetheless these teachers cannot suppose that they do not need to learn the content of faith from others.”[42]Naturally, this beings the discussion back to the Evangelical street preachers that attempt to deflect Catholic apologist by claiming they have no need for teachers that the Holy Spirit gives them all the gifts to interpret Holy Scripture. The difficulty with this particular teaching on their part is that it contradicts the Holy Scriptures themselves as St. Augustine explains:

  1. Now if any one says that we need not direct men how or what they should teach, since the Holy Spirit makes them teachers, he may as well say that we need not pray, since our Lord says, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him;” or that the Apostle Paul should not have given directions to Timothy and Titus as to how or what they should teach others. And these three apostolic epistles ought to be constantly before the eyes of every one who has obtained the position of a teacher in the Church. In the First Epistle to Timothy do we not read: “These things command and teach?”3What these things are, has been told previously. Do we not read there: “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father?” Is it not said in the Second Epistle: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me?”5And is he not, be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth?” And in the same place: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine…And so the same apostle says to Timothy himself, speaking, of course, as teacher to disciple: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”[43]

Overall, the entire document On Christian Doctrineis the instruction that the Catholic faith is one of both faith and reason. The Catholic faith is a faith of both the material and the spiritual. We are the creation of God who formed us both with a body united with our souls. It is God who gives us the material sacraments that aid us by His Grace to live out our call to holiness.

[1]Fr. Thomas Joseph White O.P., The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism(Washington: Catholic University Press. 2017), 69.

[2]Phillip Hadden, The Nature of Philosophy, Science, and Theology and Their Relationship. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

 

[3]Jn. 14:15 RSV

[4]Jn. 1:1 RSV

[5]Mt. 5:17:18 RSV

[6]Lk 1:78-79 RSV

[7]Lk 1:77 RSV

[8]Mk. 1:15 RSV

[9]Trent Horn, Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties (El Cajon: Catholic Answers Press. 2016), 256.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2013), 2.

[12]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 523.

[13]The HolyBible, Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Gen 22:1–13.

[14]Phillip Hadden, The Nature of Philosophy, Science, and Theology and Their Relationship. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

[15]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 525.

[16]Mk 5:35–43 RSV

[17]Levering, 4.

[18]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 526.

[19]Levering, 5.

[20]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 527.

[21]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 527–528.

[22]Ralph McInerny, A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 22.

[23]Levering, 6.

[24]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 530.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 531.

[26]Levering, 9.

[27]Robin Lane Fox, Augustine(New York: Basic Books, 2015), 187.

[28]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 450.

[29]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 329.

[30]Levering, 9.

[31]1 Cor. 11:27–31. RSV

[32]Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy (New York: Random House, 2016), 10.

[33]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 539.

[34]Levering, 10.

[35]Ibid.

[36]Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 74.

[37]St. Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine,Book 2 para. 17-18.

[38]Levering, 13.

[39]Ibid.

[40]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 562–563.

[41]Levering, 15.

[42]Levering, 16.

[43]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 585.

On the Influence of St. Augustine

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St. Augustine is the most quoted Saint in the Catechism of the Catholic Church with 87 Citations followed by St. Thomas Aquinas at 61. Naturally, in many respects, as asserted by Bishop Robert Barron asserts in his Pivotal Players series, St. Augustine is “one of three or four most important players in the history of the Church…he is a pivotal figure in the development of Western Civilization. He is the most significant bridge of ancient Rome and the Christian culture that would come to full flower in the Middle Ages. As a master of the Latin language; he ranks with Cicero, Virgil and Ovid. As a theologian and philosopher, he has practically no rivals, with the possible exception of Thomas Aquinas.[1]

Augustine was born to St. Monica in Thagaste in North Africa which is now modern-day Algeria in 354 A.D. St. Monica, a devout Christian and his father a pagan by the name of Patricius. Augustine had a difficult relationship with his father, who enjoyed drinking and was a little rough. Patricius would later convert to the Christian faith on his death bed. During Augustine’s youth, his father paid for him to be tutored in Carthage, where not long after that in 370 A.D. Augustine would father a son to a woman he does not name in the Confessions. It was shortly after this period that Augustine becomes interested in philosophy by reading Ciceroes Horetensius, which unfortunately has been lost to history. What we know of this document, we know only from sources like Augustine who quote the document.  Augustine would teach and later become the rhetorician of the Emperor of Rome in Milan. He also becomes involved with a heretical group called the Manicheans which practiced a quasi-Christian dualistic world. It combined Neo-Platonic elements of light, darkness, good, evil within some elements of Christian Gnosticism. A good source for an explanation of Manichean belief is Classics scholar Robin Lane Fox’s massive volume titled Augustine.

It is after St. Augustine hears the preaching of St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, that he is converted to Christianity. St. Ambrose introduces him to a synthesis of Neo-Platonic thought into orthodox Christianity, Augustine quits his job with the emperor and baptized on Easter in 387 A.D.

It’s fairly easy to intimately know St. Augustine conversion story. Augustine wrote one of, if not, the first autobiographies in Western Civilization—still readily available in print to this very day. Augustine’s Confessionsis unique as it gives a person account of his youth, sinful character, conversion, and foundational theology and philosophy. It is in the pages of theConfessions we learn that Augustine could not find peace in glory, power, wealth, and pleasure. He finally finds peace in a submission of his will to a crucified mocked, beaten, poor, and suffering Jesus Christ. Augustine writes in the first page of the Confessions, “Our Heart is restless until it rests in thee.”[2]A position of submission, a position quite strange to our 21stcentury Western world that values rights over duties and expressed individualism over the social good. Fr. Jacques Philippe in his book Interior Freedom gives a clear diagnosis of our current cultural climate writing, “that our love often goes in the wrong direction: we love ourselves, selfishly, and end up frustrated, because only genuine love can fulfill us.”[3]St. Augustine reminds us, as we will see with his multiple works, that many issues we may consider to be a development of modern society are very old issues simply recycled.

The first time I came to be acquainted with St. Augustine is the beginning of 2008. At the time I was attending the University of Illinois Chicago. I needed to take an elective class, I looked at the class catalog—they still had those at the time—and saw that there was a course offered on “Catholic Thought.” I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m Catholic, this is an easy “A.” Of course, what I found out is that the professor is considered a serious scholar on Augustinian topics and he went by the name of Paul J. Griffiths. Now, I had gone to Catholic School K-8 and confirmed in the Catholic Church but it was a secular university where I learned that Catholicism is a serious intellectual powerhouse built on Divine Revelation, Apostolic tradition, and serious intellectual prowess. It was at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I learned that Catholicism is smart, a seed of admiration for St. Augustine was planted.

The course, being a survey course, we only dived into selected material of St. Augustine’s Confessions.It is in those pages where Augustine begins to develop the theology of Original Sin. It’s an interesting process to ponder that the Church operated under the idea of Original Sin for approximately four centuries as it formulated the purpose of the second person of the Trinity in its Nicene Creed, but it was Augustine that developed it into a theological language known to us now as “Original Sin.” The most famous passage in the Confessions that deals with this particular topic is when Augustine examines his motives for stealing pears as a young boy.

Augustine writes:

Surely, Lord, your law punishes theft, as does that law written on the hearts of men, which not even iniquity itself blots out. What thief puts up with another thief with a calm mind? Not even a rich thief will pardon one who steals from him because of want. But I willed to commit theft, and I did so, not because I was driven to it by any need…For I stole a thing which I had plenty of my own and of much better quality. Nor did I wish to enjoy that thing which I desired to gain by theft, but rather to enjoy the actual theft and the sin of theft.

 …We took great loads of fruit from it (orchard), not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs;

 …Behold, now let my heart tell you what it looked for there, that I should be evil without purpose and there should be no cause for my evil but evil itself. Foul was the evil, and I loved it[4].

 After reading this selected material, we were asked in a lecture by Professor Griffiths, what is the source of our desire to do evil? Augustine explains that the sin we desire to commit is caused by a weakness or wound to our hypomorphic nature (body and rational soul composite). Augustine explains that it was in humanity’s disobedience to God that deprived us of our original grace or friendship with Him and it affects even the littlest of us. As all that God creates is good in form, evil and sin is a deprivation of the good. For example, if someone wishes to do good for someone; they will what it means as the perfection of another. If someone wishes to do harm; they will deprive them of the good or perfection.

 

Naturally, a lot of this development of the idea Original Sin is further solidified in Augustine’s debate with Pelagius and Pelagianism. Pelagianism is an early Church heresy that argued that people could attain salvation by good works, or basically if you’re a good person you go to heaven. Many in our modern Catholic Church would find it shocking that the Church has never taught that being good is all one needs to go to heaven. Pope Francis warns us of Neo Pelagianism in his Apostolic Exhortation GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE:

49. Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.”

52. The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative. The Fathers of the Church, even before Saint Augustine, clearly expressed this fundamental belief. Saint John Chrysostom said that God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into battle.[53] Saint Basil the Great remarked that the faithful glory in God alone, for “they realize that they lack true justice and are justified only through faith in Christ”.[54]


  1. The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace: “Even the desire to be cleansed comes about in us through the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit”.[55]Subsequently, the Council of Trent, while emphasizing the importance of our cooperation for spiritual growth, reaffirmed that dogmatic teaching: “We are said to be justified gratuitously because nothing that precedes justification, neither faith nor works, merits the grace of justification; for ‘if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom 11:6)”[5]

 

Ultimately, it is through Augustine’s observation of life that he concludes through reason that we’ve been scarred by Original Sin. It was in the first act of disobedience that has wounded our original state of grace; therefore, it must be through an act of God to provide for us the means to be justified by his free gift of Grace—this is why St. Augustine is known as the Doctor of Grace.

[1]St. Augustine of Hippo. Performed by Bishop Robert Barron. Accessed May 12, 2019. http://www.wofdigital.org.

[2]St. Augustine, The Confessions, 1.1

[3][3]Jacques Phillippe, Interior Freedom, 2002, p. 13.

[4]Augustine, and John K. Ryan. The Confessions of St. Augustine. (New York: Image Books, 2014), 28.

[5]Pope Francis. Gaudete Et Exsultate: Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World (19 March 2018) | Francis. Accessed May 12, 2019. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html.

 

St. John Chrysostom

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St. John Chrysostom was born around 349 A.D. in Antioch and like many of the other Church Fathers we’ve discussed like St. Justin Martyr and St. Athanasius was born into wealth. The affluence of his family allowed him to taught by one of antiquities greatest teachers, Libanius. The famous pagan professor said “It is a pity…that the boy is a Christian—otherwise he could be my successor.”[1]Chrysostom lost his father at an early age and being brought by his mother, Anthusa, as Pope Benedict XVI explains she “instilled in him exquisite human sensitivity and a deep Christian faith.”[2]D’Ambrosio explains that despite having such a formidable education, Chrysostom, “lost his enthusiasm for a life in law or public service. He had met some hermits outside the city and, inspired by their example, decided to join them.[3]He spent four years with the monks on Mount Silpius, “he extended his retreat for a further two years, living alone in a cave under the guidance of an old hermit.”[4]

Pope Benedict, in his General Audience on St. John Chrysostom, gives an account of Chrysostom’s early career in the Church’s clergy as he “between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386 and come a famous preacher in the city’s churches.”[5]It was the next year when Emperor Theodosius had been compelled to increase taxes due to a response to an invasion. The tax increased caused a mob to form who were incensed by the tax. The mob defaced statues of the Emperor and as response to the vandalism the Emperor intended to punish the city.[6]At this moment, after the Bishop went to the Emperor to plead for reconciliation, Chrysostom went to the people, led them in prayer and gave twenty-one of some of his most famous homliles called On the Statues. St. John was able to quiet the rage of the mob, which in turn, smoothed over the wrath of the Emperor. In our current cultural climate, perhaps it would be wisdom for both leaders and citizens to reflect on this event.

St. John Chrysostom understands this by developing and defending the doctrine of Eucharist to be called “The Doctor of the Eucharist.”

He writes,

“For When thou seest the Lord sacrificed and laid upon the alter, and the priest standing and praying over the Victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that Precious Blood, canst thou think that thou art still amongst men and standing on earth…Oh, what a marvel! What love of God to Man!”

Elias left a sheepskin to his disciple, but the Son of God, ascending left us His own flesh!…Let us not lament, nor fear the difficulties of the times, for He who did not refuse to pour out His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood again—what will He refused to do for our safety?”[7]

As we note above from Fr. Rengers, D’Ambrosio further explains, “One of the most notable themes struck by John is the centrality of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the life of the Church. He insisted that consecrated elements truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.”[8]In D’Ambrosio’s text, he references from Homilies 1 and 2 on the Betrayal of Judasin which St. John Chrysostom’s words become an astounding defense for the Priesthood and the Priest’s role in Christ’s sacrifice at the Mass.

 

If we break down St. John’s words, when he articulates the idea “It is not man who causes what is presented to come the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself.”[9]This is a perfect example of what is known as In Persona Christi. It’s important to note that we acknowledge this in the beginning of Mass. For example, at the opening of Mass, when we respond “And with your Spirit, It is a response to In Persona Christi—not the priest.And of course, there are other times when the Priest serves in the person of Christ like at the sacrament of reconciliation.

Again, in a Christmas Homily, St. John Chysostom reminds us of the Incarnation during the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Mass by saying, “Reflect, O Man, what sacrificial flesh you take in your hand!” (note the language)
St. John Chrysostom writes in regards to our mission for aiding the poor in Homily 50 on aiding the poor and being a missionary church.

He says:

Wouldest thou do honour to Christ’s Body? Neglect Him not when naked; do not, while here thou honourest Him with silken garments, neglect Him perishing without of cold and nakedness. For He that said, This is My Body, and by His word confirmed the fact, This Same said, Ye saw Me an hungered, and fed Me not; and, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me. For This indeed needs not coverings, but a pure soul; but that requires much attention.

Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honour Christ as He Himself desires. For to Him who is honoured that honour is most pleasing, which it is His own will to have, not that which we account best. Since Peter too thought to honour Him by forbidding Him to wash his feet, but his doing so was not an honour, but the contrary.

Even so do thou honour Him with this honour, which He ordained, spending thy wealth on poor people. Since God hath no need at all of golden vessels, but of golden souls.

And these things I say, not forbidding such offerings to be provided; but requiring you, together with them, and before them, to give alms. For He accepts indeed the former, but much more the latter. For in the one the offerer alone is profited, but in the other the receiver also. Here the act seems to be a ground even of ostentation; but there all is mercifulness, and love to man.

For what is the profit, when His table indeed is full of golden cups, but He perishes with hunger? First fill Him, being an hungered, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Dost thou make Him a cup of gold, while thou givest Him not a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Dost thou furnish His Table with cloths bespangled with gold, while to Himself thou affordest not even the necessary covering? And what good comes of it? For tell me, should you see one at a loss for necessary food, and omit appeasing his hunger, while you first overlaid his table with silver; would he indeed thank thee, and not rather be indignant? What, again, if seeing one wrapped in rags, and stiff with cold, thou shouldest neglect giving him a garment, and build golden columns, saying, “thou wert doing it to his honour,” would he not say that thou wert mocking, and account it an insult, and that the most extreme?

Let this then be thy thought with regard to Christ also, when He is going about a wanderer, and a stranger, needing a roof to cover Him; and thou, neglecting to receive Him, deckest out a pavement, and walls, and capitals of columns, and hangest up silver chains by means of lamps, but Himself bound in prison thou wilt not even look upon.[10]
The Interesting part of when D’ambrosio quotes this particular passage in the text is that immediately my thoughts went to the Gospel of John Chapter 12:

The Anointing at Bethany.Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[The] large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, 11 because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. [11]

 I thought how can St. John Chrysostom challenge the importance of golden cups on the church’s altar and at the same time come to an agreement with this particular passage. Naturally, I went to the source to find the answer and it’s as if St. John knew I would inquire about such a discrepancy between the Gospel texts, he says:

Why then doth He Himself say, The poor always ye have with you, but Me ye have not always? Why, for this reason most of all should we give alms, that we have Him not always an hungered, but in the present life only. But if thou art desirous to learn also the whole meaning of the saying, understand that this was said not with a view to His disciples, although it seem so, but to the woman’s weakness. That is, her disposition being still rather imperfect, and they doubting about her; to revive her He said these things. For in proof that for her comfort He said it, He added, Why trouble ye the woman? And with regard to our having Him really always with us, He saith, Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. From all which it is evident, that for no other object was this said, but that the rebuke of the disciples might not wither the faith of the woman, just then budding.[12]

St. John’s words stirs in my thoughts the question, on a parish level, how can we properly meet the needs of the poor in our community. In my own parish, a new ministry has started with a chapter of St. Vincent De Paul Society, which appears to be doing good work by helping other churches make and deliver meals, as well as take other donations. One of the issues that I have from a Catholic stand point is that I feel as though we get away from our mission stated in Matthew 25, when I drive around town, I see many Evangelical churches together going out and engaging with the poor. I ask myself, where are the Catholics. In my mind, in regards to our own parish, I wonder what St. John Chrysostom would say in regards to our present parish life.

One of St. John Chrysostom’s most famous homilies is his Easter Homily, which is given as the Homily at every Easter Sunday in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. In fact, the homily is so prestiges that it is getting a new rebirth in Protestant churches as the Homily given at the Easter services. Again, St. John Chrysostom reminds us that we must focus on the importance of the Resurrection in regard to the entirety of our faith. Christ is not like Mohammad, Buddha, or Confucius who wish for us to follow a path, but rather Christ tells us to “Come Follow Him,” and where we ask him where, he replies, “Come and See.” The centrality of our faith relies on Christ and His Resurrection, as we’ve seen by the lives and works of St. Justin Martyr and St. Athanasius. St. Paul reminds us in the First Letter to the Corinthians, “13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. 15 Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.[13]

 

Easter Homily

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

[1]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 243.

[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 98.

[3]D’Ambrosio, 243.

[4]Pope Benedict XVI, 98.

[5]Ibid, 99.

[6]D’Ambrosio, 244.

[7][7]Christopher Rengers and Matthew E. Bunson, The 35 Doctors of the Church(Tan Books: Charlotte, 2014), 112.

[8]D’Ambriosio, 245.

[9]Ibid.

[10]John Chrysostom, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Parts 1 & 2, trans. Bart Prevost, vol. 2, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford; London: John Henry Parker; J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1843–1844), 685–686.

[11]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 12:1–11.

[12]John Chrysostom, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Parts 1 & 2, trans. Bart Prevost, vol. 2, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford; London: John Henry Parker; J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1843–1844), 686–687.

[13]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Co 15:13–17.

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St. Athanasius

336

Welcome to the 4thweek of the Discussion group series on the Church Fathers. In our last session, we discussed St. Justin Martyr’s beautiful illumination on the Logos; being Christ, it relationship to Creation, and its philosophical connection to divine truth. St. Justin Martyr’s narrative brough forth some thoughts on the proofs of God, namely St. Thomas Aquinas’ 3rdway—“Why is there something rather than nothing.” It also caused us to engage pagan philosopher’s ideas about God and their understanding of God.

When attending University of Illinois, I remember taking a class on Plato, and, of course, we had to read Plato’s Phaedrus. However, to be honest, I don’t remember much of the text, Plato’s development of his ‘theory of forms’ is developed over many texts starting with the Phaedo, Phaedrus, and the Republic. In Plato’s Phaedrus, I came across a particular text that Plato puts coming from the mouth of Socrates, “Madness from a god is finer than self-control of human origin.[1]” In the TV miniseries, The Man Who Became Pope, Karol Wojtyla—the future John Paul II—is quotes the phrase in a more Christian context saying to KGB agent saying, “Madness that comes from God is so much better than wisdom of human origin.” Bishop Wojtyla, in the film, brings to the attention of the Soviet atheist that Plato was the Father of Reason echoing our past conversation on Justin Martyr’s incorporation of pagan philosophy with the Logos.

Our past discussions show us that really the primary outcome of learning the history of the Church Fathers is to gain a better understanding of the revelation of God. Our next discussion further develops this revelation as St. Athanasius is the next person of interest for our group. In many ways, St. Athanasius carries the tradition of St. Justin Martyr by developing further the idea of the Divine Word and the Word’s eschatological role in salvation history.

Who and why was St. Athanasius important?

Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).”[2]
St. Athanasius was born around 300 A.D, his exact date of birth is debated among scholars,  and died on May 2, 373 A.D. Fr. Christopher Rengers writes in his book, The 35 Doctors of the Church, “nothing is known of his family. From the thoroughness of his education, it is presumed that he came from well-to-do parents who could afford a good education. But he could have received much of this through the influence of Alexander (Patriarch of Alexandria)”[3]Pope Benedict believes that this education occurred before any contact with Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.[4]Prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., in 318 A.D, Athanasius wrote his most famous work called On the Incarnationin which Marcellino D’Ambrosio articulates as “one of the great theological classics of all time.”[5]However, it must be expressed that there is some debate when the classic text was written; D’ambrosio dates it to an earlier period due to addressing the topics brought forth by Arius and the Arian heresy, but not ever naming Arius distinctly.[6]

The issues brought forth by St. Athanasius and settled during the Council of Nicaea would appear to us modern Catholics as non-controversial, but Catholics of the modern age have to realize that much of our creedal traditions were forged during these pivotal years. Fr. Rengers explains, “A GREAT controversy that involved emperors, popes and bishops, that stirred up intrigue and bloodshed, that shook Christianity to its depths, centered on one simple, sure answer in the Catechism. The answer goes very simply: ‘The chief teaching of the Catholic Church about Jesus Christ is that He is God made man.”[7]Fr. Renger goes on, “Because of his championship of this fundamental truth he is called ‘The Father of Orthodoxy’…St. Athanasius defended the divine Sonship at the cost of immense personal discomfort, suffering and danger. His whole live was shaped around his defense of the divinity of Christ.”[8]

 

St. Athanaius’ orthodoxy exhibited in his work On the Incarnation and others that defended the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ caused him a lot of turmoil in his live. D’Ambrosio reminds us that “during the forty-five years he was bishop, he was banished five times for a total of seventeen years in exile. By the time he died in A.D. 373, he had outlasted most of his enemies. He fought tirelessly, sometimes almost singlehandedly, for the truth of the Catholic faith taught at Nicaea.”[9]During one of his many exiles, St. Athanasius “was pursued up the Nile, When the imperial officers were gaining on him, he ordered his boat turned around. At the time it was still hidden from the pursuers by a bend in the river. When the two boats crossed paths, the Roman officers, not personally knowing Athanasius shouted out, asking if anyone had seen Athanasius. St. Athanasius himself answered them: “He is not very far off.” It’s important to ponder this story, for it reveals that in our future struggles, we must use our intelligence to not only defend ourselves from our enemies, but also to defend the faith.

Arius was a priest in Alexandria who “threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us.”[10]Jimmy Akin explains Arianism very well in his book, The Fathers Know Best, writing that the heresy was “Founded by Arius, a priest of Alexandria, Egypt, in the early 300s. Arius held that originally the Son of God did not exist. There was a time in which there was a single divine Person who became the Father when he created the Son out of nothing. The Son was the first of all created beings and thus separate from the Father in being. The heresy was condemned at the first ecumenical council—Nicaea I in 325—but the controversy intensified and lasted much longer.[11]

 

What would be the result if Arius’ assertion were true?

D’Ambrosio explains “If Christ is simply a demigod, an intermediary who is something less than God, he is not really Emmanuel, God with us, Rather, he is an emissary sent by God…the emissary conveys the orders of the Sovereign but does not himself know the Sovereign intimately, he cannot reveal God to us as he really is. We are condemned to obey God but to never really know him.”[12]

The idea of the Incarnation and Divinity of Jesus is important to Christianity that D”Ambrosio explains it as “the linchpin of our salvation. If Christ were only a creature, the Gospel would truly be such a good news after all.”[13]In many ways, it has always been sin that is easily visbible in the world. The good news of the Gospels gives us hope that the hole that has been caused by our sin against God will be healed by God with our cooperation, as St. Athanasius explains so beautifully in his work On the Incarnation.

I am reminded of the consequence of Christ being a creation of God and also of an essay written by G.K. Chesterton on Original Sin.

Chesterton writes:

ONCE upon a time when Mr. H. G. Wells was setting forth on his varied and splendid voyage from Utopia to Utopia, he announced as a sort of watchword or war-cry that the new world would have nothing to do with the idea of Original Sin. He did not specially speak, and, indeed, there was no reason for him to speak, about his other beliefs or unbeliefs. He had not then compared the Trinity to a dance; but neither had he called adoring multitudes to the shrine of the Invisible King. But, standing at the end of the great scientific nineteenth century, he thought it time to announce that the one doctrine he did not believe in was Original Sin. Standing at the beginning of the still more scientific twentieth century, Mr. Aldous Huxley calmly announces that the one doctrine he does believe in is Original Sin. He may be a sceptic or a heretic about many things, but on that point he is quite orthodox. He may not hold many theological dogmas, but about this dogma he is quite dogmatic. There is one fragment of the ancient creed which he not only clings to, but declares to be necessary to all clear minds of the new generation. And that is the very fragment which Mr. Wells threw away thirty years ago, as something that would never be needed any more. The stone that the builder of Utopia rejected . . .”[14]

 

It is St. Athansius work, On the Incarnation,were he lays down both the importance of the divinity of Christ and his necessary sacrifice to make the world anew as a result of humanities sin against God.

On the Incarnation

 

In Athanasius’ work, the first 5 sections discuss creation and the fall of man. In the text, we are reminded of the God’s only prohibition and the result of ignoring such an edict from God.

Section 3

“First of all believe that God is one, which created and framed all things, and made them to exist out of nothing.” 2. To which also Paul refers when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the Word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear.” 3. For God is good, or rather is essentially the source of goodness: nor could one that is good be niggardly of anything: whence, grudging existence to none, He has made all things out of nothing by His own Word, Jesus Christ our Lord…and He did not barely create man, as He did all the irrational creatures on the earth, but made them after His own image, giving them a portion even of the power of His own Word; so that having as it were a kind of reflexion of the Word, and being made rational, they might be able to abide ever in blessedness, living the true life which belongs to the saints in paradise. 4. But knowing once more how the will of man could sway to either side, in anticipation He secured the grace given them by a law and by the spot where He placed them. For He brought them into His own garden, and gave them a law: so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care, besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but that if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature: no longer to live in paradise, but cast out of it from that time forth to die and to abide in death and in corruption.[15]

 

Section 5

 

Here, St. Athanasius reminds us, that by committing this sin against God by ignoring his edict, we, in fact, lost existence with God being cast out of the garden by inventing wickedness

 

as Wisdom also says: “God made man for incorruption, and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death came into the world.” But when this was come to pass, men began to die, while corruption thence-forward prevailed against them…having to begin with been inventors of wickedness and called down upon themselves death and corruption; while later on, having turned aside to wrong and exceeding all lawlessness, and stopping at no one evil but devising all manner of new evils in succession, they have become insatiable in sinning[16]

However, in sections six through ten, St. Athansius explains God’s resolution for the salvation of humanity. He explains, in section six, that he cannot go back on his word in Genesis, in regards to his prohibition, humanity must die; however, if God were to leave his creation as thus it would show God to be limited in his own nature.[17]

It is in the section six of On The Incarnationthat we come to a theological crossroadsbetween St. Athanasius and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Arguably, the greatest thinker, philosopher, and theologian of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas Aquinas argues for a theological position which appears to challenge St. Athanasius’ work in On the Incarnationabout the necessity of The Word becoming flesh. In the Summa, St. Thomas remarks that the Incarnation is not necessary, but fitting; however, in On the Incarantion, St. Athanasius, by explaining that God cannot go back on his word in Genesis, there is only one fitting method for deification, or theosis of humanity in salvation history. For all practical purposes, as I’ve quoted both sources, they appear contradictory, but they are not under the proper understanding of what each saints means by necessary.

The scope of St. Thomas’ understanding is in understanding of cosmology. As God created the universe from nothing and is also all knowing. St. Thomas is correct that the omnipotent eternal God would be aware of humanities sin prior to it’s act and could choose whatever course for salvation as he acts in a state of pure actuality—never in a state of potentiality. Therefore, if it was fitting and proper for God after our sin to send his only begotten Son into the world to ransom us from our sins, then it follows under the lines of St. Athanasius argument. St. Athanasius argument merely doesn’t equate for the idea that God didn’t even have to create humanity, the world, declare his commandment not to eat from the tree, etc. Therefore, it is only necessary to the degree that God desired in His plan. In some manner, there becomes a mystery that Christ has always been the plan, it becomes both necessary and fitting that Christ shall ransom us from our sins, as God is ever knowing. In this framework, St. Athanasius’ necessary means so in the second sense

 

Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity

St. Athanasius writings were also responsible for much of the development and understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In the Liturgy of Hours, the reading for Trinity Sunday is taken from St. Athanasius’ First Letter to Serapionin which he writes:

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostles and guarded by the Fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian, either in fact or in name…We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being (note: Christ’s Divinity here). It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved…”[18]

How would any of you describe the Holy Trinity?

One time I was having a discussion with an atheist who had popped in the comment section of my blog who presented a challenge to all Christians. The challenge stated, “Name one unique idea created by Christianity.” After some other bloggers had offered ideas that were dismissed, and after I had presented Transubstantiation— only to be dismissed (even though it is unique)— I also presented the most glaring central doctrine of the Church, The Holy Trinity. However, the atheist rejected this as not being an original idea as he gave what he referred to as the Hindu trinity known as Trimurti. After I had looked into the Trimurti, I concluded that the Christian Trinity is truly unique, and this comparison to the Trimurti was a false equivalent.

 

Now to claim this is a false equivalent, one must have a better understanding of the most Holy Trinity. In the case of the Trimurti, the three gods are exactly that, three distinct gods that are reincarnated into an avatar known Datta, but regardless, Brahma still takes center stage in that religion. I explained their difference ultimately using the Athanasian Creed, Fr. Rengers reminds us of the Athanasius Creed, “consisting of 40 rhythmic statements, had been used in the Sunday Office for over a thousand years.”[19]—which I wish we would use more often— “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God…So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another.”

 

During the conversation, I wish that I had the modern example given by Michael Pennock in This is Our Faithof a woman who is three different persons, although she is one woman. She is a Mother, a wife, and friend. I also wish I was more familiar with St. John’s of Damascus example, “The Father is the sun with the Son as ray and the Holy Spirit as heat.” All very distinct concepts, but from one source, and with one will. It is entirely different, a central doctrine and great mystery that is truly original to Christianity.
Finally, a great foundation for understanding the Holy Trinity rests in focusing on the Incarnation, The Word of God, Christ Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. Of course, as I’ve mentioned previously, unless we are fluent in ancient languages, we must read St. Athanasius in translation. However, one of the greatest teachers of our faith, and perhaps one day will be honored as a Doctor of the Faith, Bl. John Henry Newman writes on the Incarnation:

“This was the new and perfect tabernacle into which He entered (the body); entered, but not confined, not to be circumscribed by it. The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; though His own hands ‘made it and fashioned it,’ still he did not cease to be what He was, because He became man, but was still the Infinite God, manifested in, not altered by the flesh. He took upon Him our nature, as an instrument of His purposes, not as an agent in the work. (The Incarnation is not a creature) What is one thing cannot become another; His manhood remained human, and His Godhead remained divine.”[20]

[1]http://web.stanford.edu/~mvr2j/ucsccourse/Phaedrus.pdf p. 523

[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008),58.

[3]Christopher Rengers and Matthew E. Bunson, The 35 Doctors of the Church(Tan Books: Charlotte, 2014), 2.

[4]Pope Benedict XVI, 59.

[5]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014),162.

[6]Ibid, 163.

[7]Renger and Bunson, 1.

[8]Ibid.

[9]D’Ambrosio, 177.

[10]Pope Benedict XVI, 59.

[11]Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church(San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2010), 85.

[12]D’Ambrosio, 165.

[13]Ibid, 164.

[14]http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/GKC_Come_to_Think.html#c28

[15]Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 37–38.

[16]Ibid, 39.

[17]On the Incarnation, 6.

[18]Rengers and Bunson, 8.

[19]Ibid.

[20]Dave Armstrong, Quotable Newman(Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012), 197.

St. Justin Martyr

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Welcome to Our Saviour’s Parish. We’re in the third week of our discussion series. In our first week, we covered the oldest known catechism of the church—the  Didache, and followed it up last week with St. Clement of Rome. By examining these periods of our early Christian history, we’ve been able to uncover the early foundations of Christians living the philosophy of community rather than living as individuals, the concept of commandments, the early practices of baptism, Apostolic succession, Christian unity, the primacy of the Pope.

As I was reviewing the text for our discussion series, I found it hard to choose Church Fathers, as all played a pivotal role in the early years of Christianity. So the first week, I chose the Didache for the reason to show that early Christians did in fact believe in the same things that we profess today. The second week, I chose Clement to show the importance of Apostolic succession and the Papacy to early Christians. So when deciding on our third weeks topics, I landed on St. Justin Martyr, for the reason that in his written work The First Apology, he illustrates to us a liturgy that is very similar to our contemporary mass.

St. Justin Martyr is important for many reasons, in fact, Pope Benedict XVI says that he is “the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers.”[1]Of course, St. Justin’s fate is usually paired with his fate; however, it’s also important to note him, as many were in the early years, as a convert to the faith. Reviewing our text, we learn that Justin Martyr was born “about twenty miles to the north of the City of David in the ancient biblical town of Shechem”[2]around the year 100 A.D.

D’Ambrosio explains that Justin grew up in a pagan family, and during the time, it would be desirable to become one of the popular cloak wearing philosophers who were gathering their many disciples.[3]In the last month, listening to one of Bishop Robert Barron’s podcasts, Bp. Barron that if any of us desire to become men and women who are learned in our craft then we must put in the time. So Naturally, Justin’s desire to become a philosopher led him to the great libraries of Alexandria and Ephesus to perfect his craft.[4]During his time in these great cities of learning, Justin would be introduced to “numerous systems of thought—The Stoics, then Pythagoras, then finally Plato,” who would so heavily influence the thought of St. Augustine.[5]

Whilst learning from these various schools of thought, it was during this period in which St. Justin Martyr would be converted to the Christian faith. Pope Benedict gives a stirring account of Justin’s conversion story of a trailing old man saying, “he himself (Justin Martry) recounts in the first chapters of his Dialogue with Tryphon, a mysterious figure, an old man he met on the seashore, initially leads him into a crisis by showing him that it is impossible for the human being to satisfy his aspiration to the divine solely with his own forces. He then pointed out to him the ancient prophets as the people to turn to in order to find the way to God and ‘true philosophy’. In taking his leave, the old man urged him to pray that the gates of light would be opened to him.” The story foretells the crucial episode in Justin’s life: at the end of a long philosophical journey, a quest for the truth, he arrived at the Christian faith.”[6]

It’s easy for modernity to dismiss this story as nothing more than pious legend; however, if we take it at face value, can we not ask who was this mysterious old man? Are there mysterious in our lives that have led us closer to Christ? Have we encountered God and should we speak more to these revelations with our fellow Christians?

One of the great aspects of the Catholic faith is that is not an either; or religion, we’re not required by our Church to choose between faith and reason, but rather, we’re given the opportunity to have both; and; this system of thought has been exhibited in recent years by the 1998 encyclical of our patron, Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio. The foundation of the tradition of faith and Reason in our church is very much rooted in the writings and life of St. Justin Martyr. As Catholics, we’re accused of being superstitious by tired stereotypes forged by anti-Catholic rhetoric; however, the truth is that we’re not required to be anti-science but rather pro-science. Furthermore, we can’t be afraid of science because in studying the creations of God we can only move closer to God, the creator of the world, and ultimately nothing can be discovered that would invalidate Him. Of course, this train of thought, is what led men like Fr. Georges Lemitre—the Father of the Big Bang Theory and Augustinian Friar Gregor Mendel—the Father of Modern genetics.

We’re also charged with taking up the principles of Logic and philosophy, more of the realm of St. Justin, as D’ambrosio explains, “Justin did not then take off his philosopher’s cloak. Rather, he believed that it was only after baptism that he was finally entitled to wear it. In Christ, he had found the answer to every question, the key that unlocked all doors, just as the old man had promised.”[7]
After Justin’s conversion to Christianity, his desire for knowledge led him Ephesus where St. John the Apostle lived and died, and then from there, to Rome where St. Paul and St. Peter met their reward in which Justin would later take a share in it. It is at Rome where St. Justin Martyr writes two of his most important defenses of the faith, or apologies. Of course, an apology in the traditional sense doesn’t carry the same connotation as in our modern language,. Pope Benedict XVI explains, “the apologists had a twofold concern: that most properly called “apologetic”, to defend the newborn Christianity (apologhía in Greek means, precisely, “defence”), and the pro-positive, “missionary” concern, to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries.”[8]

Pope Benedict XVI further explains that it was the message of his apologies and its criticisms of pagan culture as “He founded a school in Rome where, free of charge, he initiated students the new religion…considered as the true philosophy. Indeed, in it he had found the truth, hence, the art of living virtuously. For this reason he was reported and beheaded in about 165 A.d. during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor to whom Justin had actually addressed one of his Apologia.”[9]

Generally, Apologists, because their job description entails the defense of the faith, they’re works are generally reactive to the charges of the non-believers. Justin’s responses are no different in this aspect, from D’ambrosio we learn that the calumny of the day expressed charges of incest and cannibalism, “Rumors had arisen, based on Christians’ terminology, that their secret meetings were “love feasts” between “brothers and sisters” who “consumed the flesh and blood of a man called Christus.”[10]These types of accusations continue through St. Augustine’s day to our present “meme” culture. The First Apology starts off, as D’ambrosio explains, “by blasting the idolatry and sexual immorality of the pagan society of his day…adultery and promiscuity, including homosexual liaisons and pedophilia, were rife in the empire at this time.”[11]By studying Church history, we learn that the culture of “free love” or the modern version “love is love” brought forth by the sexual revolution of the late 60s is not a result of modern progression from the dark ages, but rather, a regression to the pagan moral system of hedonism.

Justin challenges the majority culture of the day with a polemical response accusing the pagan faithful of immoral behavior as exhibited in D’ambrosio’s book:

“as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution…And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. And any one who uses such persons, besides the godless and infamous and impure intercourse, may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother. And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy;[12](1 Apology 27.)

 

St. Justin also by discrediting the accusations of incest by Christians gives a magnificent opus of the purity and dignity that is exhibited in Marriage founded on Christian principles taught by Jesus Christ himself:

“Concerning chastity, He uttered such sentiments as these: “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” And, “If thy right eye offend thee, cut it out; for it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into everlasting fire.” And, “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced from another husband, committeth adultery.”4And, “There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.” So that all who, by human law, are twice married,6are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery: since not only our works, but also our thoughts, are open before God. And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men. For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things? For Christ called not the just nor the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious, and the unjust; His words being, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” For the heavenly Father desires rather the repentance than the punishment of the sinner. And of our love to all, He taught thus: “If ye love them that love you, what new thing do ye? for even fornicators do this. But I say unto you, Pray for your enemies, and love them that hate you, and bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.”8[13]
What one finds in St. Justin’s text is a belief system pulled straight from scripture. First and foremost, it indicates the early Christian understanding on Jesus’ concept of what constitutes as marriage, as Justin is responding to the promiscuity of pagan culture.  In Matthew Chapter 19, as a response to the Pharisees challenging Christ in regards to Moses’ allowance for divorce, Jesus gives a definition of marriage based on Genesis chapter three. The only indication from Christ for a properly ordered relationship, in accordance to God’s creation, is a relationship ordered by biological compatibility and one predisposed to life, anything other type of relationship is one that does not reflect the proper sense of Christian community, but rather, pleasure of each single individual; and therefore, in the most proper sense is not true love.

So, If we compare what we’ve learn from our study of the Didache with the writings of St. Justin Martyr, D’ambrioso articulates that “Justin insists that Chrstianity is not just a belief system but a whole new way of living.”[14]A Christian must choose either the way of life or the way of death. In many ways, the struggle between the two choices sets up much of the frame work of St. Augustine’s text the City of God. We must ultimately between the City of God or the City of Man, while living in the City of Man.

The second biggest accusation towards the Christian faithful is the charge of cannibalism, which much of this was brought about by the secretiveness of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Strangers were not allowed to witness such rites and those learning the faith, known as catechumens, were compelled to leave during the meal part of the liturgy—a practice which still occurred in the old form of the Mass.  What is important to note about St. Justin’s explanation in regards to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, by revealing the Mass to the Emperor, is that it very much the same liturgy used during current Masses in our post-Vatican II era. In this manner, one could make the argument that our current Liturgy is much more ancient than the Tridentine Latin Mass. As I’ve heard our more traditional brothers and sisters articulate that “the mass of all ages” has been responsible for more saints than any other form, should we perhaps reassess such a claim in light to Justin’s description of the mass which was used by the Second Vatican Council to “renew the Mass according to the most ancient pattern of the Roman liturgy as recorded by Justin.”[15]

The entire period of patristic era of the Church Is filled with nothing but Saints.

 

Justin explains the Church’s liturgy:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; (Liturgy of the Word) then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs(Homly), and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray(Creed and Prayers of petition), and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,2and the people assent,(Liturgy of the Eucharist)saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each(Communion), and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.[16]

 

Finally when Justin Martyr refutes the challenges of cannibalism, D’Ambrosio notes that “Justin refrains from any empty symbolism.”[17]

“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.[18]

The vital lesson to take from Justin’s life is to consider whether we’ve chosen the way of Christian life, the Christian community—the body of Christ. And if we have chosen the way of life, how have we held true to these beliefs? Do we retreat from our dominating secular culture in regards to defending orthodox Christian beliefs? Or are we willing to challenge that culture, just as St. Justin Martyr did even if it means to die for it.

In the end, it was the critique of Cynic philosopher Crescens of St. Justin Martyr in his Second Apologia that led to being brought forth to Rusticus, the prefect of the Rome.[19]As exhibited in D’Ambrosio’s book, an account of Justin’s witness to Christ exists to this day:

Rusticus—“You are then a Christian?” Justin—“Yes, I am.” The judge then put the same question to each of the rest, viz., Chariton, a man; Charitana, a woman; Evelpistus, a servant of Cæsar, by birth a Cappadocian; Hierax, a Phrygian; Peon, and Liberianus, who all answered, “that, by the divine mercy, they were Christians.” Evelpistus said he had learned the faith from his parents, but had with great pleasure heard Justin’s discourses. Then the prefect addressed himself again to Justin in this manner: “Hear you, who are noted for your eloquence, and think you make profession of the right philosophy, if I cause you to be scourged from head to foot, do you think you shall go to heaven?” Justin replied, “If I suffer what you mention, I hope to receive the reward which those have already received who have observed the precepts of Jesus Christ.” Rusticus said, “You imagine then that you shall go to heaven, and be there rewarded.” The martyr answered, “I do not only imagine it, but I know it; and am so well assured of it, that I have no reason to make the least doubt of it.” The prefect seeing it was to no purpose to argue, bade them go together and unanimously sacrifice to the gods, and told them that in case of refusal they should be tormented without mercy. Justin replied, “There is nothing which we more earnestly desire than to endure torments for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; for this is what will promote our happiness, and give us confidence at his bar, where all men must appear to be judged.” To this the rest assented, adding, “Do quickly what you are about. We are Christians, and will never sacrifice to idols.” The prefect thereupon ordered them to be scourged and then beheaded,[20]

[1]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008),17.

[2]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 47.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Pope Benedict XVI, 17.

[7]D’Ambrosio, 48.

[8]Pope Benedict XVI, 17.

[9]Ibid, 18.

[10]D’ambrosio, 49.

[11]Ibid.

[12]Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 172.

[13]Justin Martyr, 167.

[14]D’Ambrosio, 50.

[15]Ibid, 55.

[16]Justin Martyr, 186. 1 Apologia 67.

[17]D’ambrosio, 55.

[18]Justin Martyr, 185. 1 Apologia 66.

[19]D’Ambriosio, 56.

[20]Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, vol. 2 (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1903), 463.

 

 

St. Clement of Rome

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Welcome to Our Savior’s Parish second week of our six week discussion series on the Church Fathers, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words, your words, and our ears to further our understanding of the founding and early history of the Church.

The first Church Father that we’ll examine is Pope St. Clement I of Rome. Of course with any person of antiquity, often what we know about the individual is pieced together by various sources, some of which may occur a generation or two after an individual has died.

Clement of Rome “Probably wrote in early 70,” as Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin wrote in his book The Father’s Know Best, and that“Various ancient sources place him as the first, second, or third successor of St. Peter. (Most commonly, he is held to be the third, after Linus and Cletus.) He was the author of a single surviving Letter to the Corinthians, which is often dated around 95 A.D,” but Akin believes “this is too late a date.[1]

Pope Benedict XVI gave several audiences on the topic of the Church Fathers and specifically on March 7th, 2007 he spoke on Clement of Rome in which he said, “St Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement “had seen the blessed Apostles”, “had been conversant with them”, and “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).[2]

A magnificent introduction to the Father that we’ll spend this evening getting to know more about. One point that we can take from Pope Benedict’s reference to St. Irenaesus’ words is that the early Church viewed Clement of Rome with the utmost respect, as well as, because his relationship with the Apostles, Clement was viewed with a special authority in their community. Pope Benedict explains, “The authority and prestige of this Bishop of Rome were such that various writings were attributed to him.”[3]As we learn more tonight, let us keep that in mind when reviewing some of the content of his Letter to the Corinthians.

The letter from Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth, in which he didn’t sign, is also called by scholars The First Epistle of Clement to Corinthians. The reason that we know today who authored this letter is from various sources in the 2ndcentury A.D. who attribute him to the work. The letter written by Clement is a response to an uprising of young Christians who sought to remove and replace established leaders in the church of Corinth in response to the Roman persecutions under the Emperor Domitian.[4]At this point, in regards to the historical record, we find a disagreement between Mr. Akin and Pope Benedict. As mentioned before, Akin believes that the Letter to the Corinthians’ dating at 95 A.D. is too late. He mentions in his book, “William Jurgens (American Catholic historian) points to internal evidence that places it no later than 80 or so (the date he favors) and possibly up to ten years earlier. John A. T. Robinson (New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop) shows internal evidence that places it in the first part of the year 70. Specifically, Clement refers to sacrifices still being offered at the temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in July of 70. Clement also refers to the repeated crises that have prevented him from writing to the Corinthians until now, which is a likely reference to the violent “year of four emperors” in 69.[5]

Pope Benedict writes that the “These “calamitous events” can be identified with Domitian’s persecution: therefore, the Letter must have been written just after the Emperor’s death and at the end of the persecution, that is, immediately after the year 96.”[6]

Who’s right? Well to be fair, Pope Benedict doesn’t present any evidence with his assertion, this makes Akin’s point appear more convincing. However, Pope Benedict’s view is the historical consensus as conceded by Akin.

Now, turning to our reference book for our Lecture Series, When the Church Was Young, the author, in regards to the youthful uprising, Marcellino D’Ambrosio poses two questions for the letter of Clement to answer:

#1 Was such a move by the young Christian upstarts legitimate to remove the established leaders of the church of Corinth?

 

#2 Is the leadership in the Christian community simply a function of popularity, talent, or political power?[7]
At this point, I’ll turn to those here who may have examined the material on how Clement answered these questions.

D’Ambrosio articulates that “in the letter, Clement insisted that the Apostles had intended an orderly succession of authority in the Church…this process of succession from the apostles was to be presented unbroken. This provides us (the faithful) with the earliest written reference to the idea of apostolic succession”[8]that was conveyed quite possible at the time by the active Bishop of Rome, depending on where one dates the letter, who would have known the teachings of the first Bishop of Rome and St. Paul on a personal level.

I believe that D’Ambrosio gives a context clue for a letter date which indicates that he believes that Clement was already Bishop of Rome, and since he’s not here to ask, I say it’s fair game to speculate a bit. If you’re still listening up to this point you may have mentally asked yourself, “Does twenty years matter with dating?” If the dating by scholars to 95 A.D. continues to hold true, this letter could possibly be one of the first historically documented records of the doctrine of Petrine Primacy prior to its more solid conception under Pope Leo the Great. In this regard, we see a reversal of Galatians 2 where the successor of Peter corrects and takes “it upon himself to speak to the members of a Church founded by the Apostle Paul…that they needed to restore the properly authorized leaders of the church.”[9]

 

The Letter of Clement reads:

The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus12Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments,14then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit,16to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons2in faith.”[10]

 The Letter of Clement gives us from a disciple of Peter and Paul the foundational premises of two Catholic doctrines namely, Primacy of the Pope and Apostolic Succession. At this point, I’d like to pivot directly to Apostolic succession. I believe it to be important to understand this idea as a way for us to grow even deeper in our faith together. On a personal note, I arrive at my faith by two means, the first, is being a combination of St. Thomas Aquinas’ 3rdway “Why is there something instead of nothing?” and his 1stway a “Prime mover.” At this point, I’ve reasoned that there is God, the necessary being, but now I ask, “Who is this God and what can I know about him.” Apostolic Succession, teaching, authority etc. are vital to me to answer these questions. If you listen to Podcasts, Bishop Robert Barron has one, and he constantly explains that Jesus’ teachings are great but the most important aspect of Christianity is not what Jesus said but who Jesus claims to be. He claims to be God by the way. So How do we know if Jesus is who says is? Well, he called twelve apostles and appointed them to be fishers of men. Those same men were invested into the priesthood of Christ and bearing the same message that Christ is God they “laid hands” on those to succeed them and those men did the same until our present day.

Now, stop, and ask yourself, Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God? I say, yes, and the reason why is that I have assented to this truth because a Risen Lord appeared to the Apostles, they chose to die for this truth and their disciples chose to die for it as well. And that message, as well as the priesthood through unbroken succession, is with us today.

This truth has been preserved for us by Clement of Rome and by the Holy Spirit. Not convinced?

We can discover by reading his Apologia Pro Vita Sua that it was the Church Fathers and Apostolic Succession that convinced one of the towering intellectuals of the 19thcentury, Blessed John Henry Newman, to convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. No big deal, right? For Newman to convert to Catholicism was a social death sentence to arguably the brightest mind in England at the time.

Newman writes, far more elegantly than I, “All sects think it necessary that their Ministers should be ordained by other Ministers. Now, if this be the case, then the validity of ordination even with them, rest on a succession; and is it not plain that they ought to trace that succession to the Apostles?”[11]Furthermore, “A body of doctrine had been delivered by the Apostles to their first successors, and by them in turn to the next generation, and then to the next.”[12]“We say, ‘therefore the Apostles live in their successors.’ Christ implies, ‘therefore the body never died, and therefore it will rise again.’[13]
The unity of the Body of Christ rests on Apostolic Succession, this is what Clement of Rome means to explain to the young Christians in Corinth, this is what is at the heart of Jesus’ priestly prayer in the Gospel of John chapter 17.

Jesus says,

20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.[14]

So, how was Clement of Rome’s letter received? The Corinthians had a most grateful response to the “fatherly” correction[15]as they continued to read his letter as part of their Sunday worship for the next several hundred years.”[16]

The letter of Pope St. Clement I has survived to us today initially because it has been translated from Greek to many different languages. However, during some point in the history of the Western Church the letter was lost until in 1623 when the Patriarch of Constantinople gave the King of England a 5thcentury Bible called the Codex Alexandrinus which contained Clements letter calling for unity through Apostolic Succession. [17]

D’Ambrosio makes an interesting observation that “unfortunately, Clement’s letter was not available during the prior century when great arguments shattered the Christian unity in the West.”[18]

[1]Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church(San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 56.

[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 7.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 5.

[5]Akin, 57.

[6]Pope Benedict XVI, 8.

[7]D’Ambrosio, 6.

[8]Ibid, 6-7 Some scholars believe Clement to be referenced in scripture in Philippians 4:3 “Yes, and I ask you also, my true yokemate, to help them, for they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and my other co-workers, whose names are in the book of life[8]

[9]D’Ambrosio, 7.

[10]Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV, ed. Allan Menzies, trans. John Keith, vol. 9, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1897), 241–242.

[11]Dave Armstrong, The Quotable Newman(Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012,) 37.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid, 38.

[14]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 17:20–23.

[15]D’Ambrosio, 8.

[16]Ibid, 9.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Ibid.